Pope Francis called to restore the Church

Friday, March 15, 2013


Leonardo Boff’s weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.
by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl) 3/15/2013 On the social networks, I had proclaimed that the future pope would be named Francis. And I was right. Why Francis? Because Saint Francis’s conversion began when he heard the Crucifix in Saint Damian’s Chapel say to him, “Francis, go and restore my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” (St. Bonaventure, Legenda Maior II, 1).
Francis took these words literally and rebuilt the Portiuncula Chapel in Assisi which still exists inside a huge cathedral. Then he realized that restoring the “Church that Christ saved through his blood” (ibid) was a spiritual matter. It was then that he started his movement for renewal of the Church that was presided by the most powerful pope in history, Innocent III. He began to live with the lepers and arm in arm with one of them, he went along the way preaching the gospel in the vernacular and not in Latin.
It’s good to know that Francis was never a priest but just a layman, Only at the end of his life, when the popes forbade lay people to preach, did he agree to become a deacon, on the condition that he not receive any kind of remuneration for the post.
Why did Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio choose the name Francis? I think it’s because he realized the Church is in ruins because of demoralization due to the various scandals that have affected the most precious thing it had: morality and credibility.
Francis isn’t a name; it’s a plan for a Church that is poor, simple, gospel-centered, and devoid of all power. It’s a Church that walks the way together with the least and last, that creates the first communities of brothers and sisters who recite the breviary under the trees with the birds. It’s an ecological Church that calls all beings those sweet words “brothers and sisters”. Francis was obedient to the Church and the popes and at the same time he followed his own path with the gospel of poverty in hand. So theologian Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “Francis’ ‘no’ to this imperial type of Church couldn’t be more radical; it’s what we could call a prophetic protest.”(in Zeit Jesu, Herder 1970, 269). Francis doesn’t talk; he simply inaugurates something new.
I think Pope Francis has in mind a church outside the palaces and symbols of power. He showed it when he appeared in public. Normally the Popes and mainly Ratzinger would put over their shoulders the mozzetta, that short capelet embroidered in gold that only emperors could wear. Pope Francis came dressed only in white. Three highly symbolic points stand out in his inaugural address.
First: He said that he wants to “preside with charity”, something that has been called for since the Reformation and by the best theologians of ecumenism. The Pope should not preside as an absolute monarch, clothed in sacred power, as provided for in canon law. According to Jesus, he should preside in love and strengthen the faith of the brothers and sisters.
Second: He gave a central place to the People of God, as Vatican II highlighted but which had been left aside by the two previous popes in favor of the hierarchy. Pope Francis humbly asked the people of God to pray for him and bless him. Only afterwards would he bless the people of God. This means that he’s there to serve and not be served. He asked them to help him build a path together and called for brotherhood for all humankind, where human being don’t recognize each other as brothers and sisters but are tied to economic forces.
Finally, he avoided all spectacle in the figure of Pope. He didn’t extend both arms to greet the people. He remained still, serious and sober, even frightened, I would say. One only saw a white figure who greeted the people affectionately. But he radiated peace and confidence. He showed his mood by speaking without official-sounding rhetoric, like a pastor speaks to the faithful.
It’s worth mentioning that he’s a pope who comes from the Great South, where the poorest of humankind are and where 60% of Catholics live. With his experience as pastor, with a new view of things, from below, he will be able to reform the Curia, decentralize the administration, and give the Church a new and credible face.

New pope must address scandal of Legionaries of Christ founder


Fr Tony Flannery is a Redemptorist priest and member of the leadership team of the Association of Catholic Priests   

New pope must address scandal of Legionaries of Christ founder.

First published: Mon, Mar 11,2013, 06:00 http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2013/03/new-pope-must-address-scandal-of-legionaries-of-christ-founder/

Questions over protection of child abuser Maciel Degollado remain  When Pope Benedict spoke of the face of the Catholic Church being “disfigured”, and when he used the word “filth” about aspects of church life, maybe he was partly referring to the Vatican itself. The next pope will have a major task ahead of him, not just with the universal church, but with reforming the Roman curia. The Vatileaks gave us insight into a dysfunctional system. We got a glimpse of a structure that was riddled with power struggles, infighting and jealousies. Even if only part of what was revealed is true, it still amounts to a major clean-up task for the new pope. My concern is an older scandal, which continues to reveal new and more astonishing features. I am referring to the story of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel Degollado. For those who don’t know, this man founded a large and conservative religious order, and also a lay institute, Regnum Christi. He was a great friend of John Paul II, and of one of the most powerful people in the Vatican, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. He died in 2008, and it is now clear that not only had he fathered children by two different women but, much more disturbing, he had a record of sexual abuse, including seminarians and even some of his own children. He was also possibly the greatest fundraiser the church has known. His order, the Legionaries, is immensely wealthy, and he poured enormous amounts of money into the Vatican, including reputedly funding most of John Paul’s foreign journeys. Many questions need to be answered regarding this man and his relation to the Vatican establishment. How could he continue to be welcomed and honoured by the pope and the curia long after it became clear that there was at the very least serious concern about him? Facing up to these questions will have to be part of making a fresh start. ‘Perfect example’ What did Pope John Paul know, and when did he know it? In 2004 he ordained 60 Legionaries in the Vatican, and he spoke of Maciel as the perfect example of priesthood to be followed by these young priests. This was years after a Vatican investigation had taken place, and when knowledge of Maciel’s activities was being widely published. If John Paul did know that there was, at least, great suspicion about this man, why did he present him as a model? Or was it that he, old and frail, was ignorant of the facts? If so, who was responsible for not warning him, to prevent him from making such a terrible mistake? Or is it possible that the pope did know, but chose to ignore the facts?

There must be people in the Vatican who know the answers to these questions. John Paul has already been declared “blessed”, and there is a possibility that he may be canonised. When the truth eventually emerges, and if it is the case that John Paul was actually covering up for Maciel, and that comes out after canonisation, it will do enormous damage to the church. Equally, if the pope was ignorant of something that by then was widely known both in the Vatican and around the world, what does that say about the real authority of popes, and the way they are treated by the curia? Life of penitence Joseph Ratzinger, when he became pope, quickly removed Maciel from ministry, and ordered him to a life of penitence. (A recent court case has revealed that, far from penitence, he lived out his life in a luxury complex in Florida.) For how long before he became pope did Joseph Ratzinger know of the activities of Maciel but failed to act out of respect for the ailing pope – or for some other reason?

Who else in the Vatican knew of the lifestyle and sexual abuse of Maciel, and when did they know it? What, if anything, did they do to stop it? The methods Maciel used to get money out of people, especially old widows and wives of wealthy men, were also questionable. A lawsuit is taking place in Rhode Island where a woman is trying to recover $30 million Maciel got from her aunt. It is widely believed that he gave large sums of money to individuals within the Vatican. His favoured method of doing this, apparently, was to hand over suitcases full of cash.To his credit, Joseph Ratzinger refused to take money from Maciel. Who in the Vatican took money, how much, and what did they do with it? And what of Cardinal Sodano, the acknowledged defender of Maciel? How is it that he is still in a senior position in the Roman curia? These are just some of the many questions and challenges facing the new pope in the Vatican itself. Maybe there is an acceptable explanation which, given its obsession with secrecy the Vatican won’t allow out, and which might give a different flavour to it all. However, if things are as they seem, then all the people involved in the cover-up, in receiving the money raised by Maciel, in not passing on the information, should be removed from their positions, and should no longer have any role in the government of the church at any level. I am not confident this will happen. Too many of the old men who will gather tomorrow to elect the new pope know, metaphorically speaking, where the bodies are buried. Even if a new pope wants to clean the place out, will he have the power to do it? But still, there is the Holy Spirit.


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Vatican could learn a thing or two about renewal from women religious

by Joan Chittister OSB | Mar. 6, 2013

First published in the National Catholic Reporter


 Like most people in the Catholic community — and far beyond that, I’m sure — I am following the transition from one papacy to another with great interest. Which in itself is something to be considered. After all, there have been six papacies in my lifetime, so you would think that by this seventh one, the fascination may have faded. On the contrary: The sense of fascination this time is even more heightened than in the past.
We are about to elect a new pope who will face serious 21st-century issues using 19th-century structures to resolve them. The cognitive dissonance of a situation like that cries to heaven for resolution. And this one may take heaven to resolve.For instance, symbol systems are very important. But when they lose their meaning to the people with whom they are meant to communicate, they can become both meaningless and impotent. In fact, they can blur the impact of the message itself. Case in point: I heard three different commentators on three different stations, each of them attempting to communicate to a contemporary public exactly what is going on in this process at this time.

One of them called the time between the resignation of one pope and the election of another pope an “interregnum” — as in, “The king is dead, long live the king.” The second commentator was more interested in knowing the meaning of the pope’s red shoes. The third described Castel Gandolfo as the place where the pope met with his “court.” I winced. So much for St. Peter and the Jesus story.

The messages were clear: To a vast population of the world, the papacy of the Roman Catholic church is some kind of meaningless monarchy, colorful, intriguing and irrelevant. It is a fantasy game played by Catholics. How seriously is something like that to be taken when the issues to be dealt with are so contemporary, so important, not only to Catholics and their idea of church and faith and the spiritual life but to the world at large? How can we believe that the answers arrived at in a medieval setting have anything to do with the real world?

And so, when the pope waved goodbye from the balcony at Castel Gandolfo, I felt a twinge of sadness — for him, for us and for the world at large. Because of his presence of mind, because of his willingness to step out of a position that has been surrounded by fairy-tale expectations, the church has been brought to a new point in its own conversion and development. And those points are not easy for anyone. In fact, women religious have themselves known them in a very special way.

For that reason, women religious may have something to teach the church about the process of conversion and development at this very important moment.

Religious life, too, had been encased in another world. Women religious lived separately from the world around them, they dressed in clothes that had been designed centuries before, they gave up a sense of personal or individual identity. As a result, they got further away from the people they served by the day, further away from their needs, further away from their feelings.

The renewal process of religious life required three major changes before they could possibly pursue anything else of a particular nature, like future planning or ministry decisions. Renewal, they discovered, was a matter of demystification, integration and relevance.

Religious life had its own kind of monarchies to be deconstructed before anything creative could possibly happen or the gifts of its members be released for the sake of the world at large.

The first step was to take the Second Vatican Council’s direction about collegiality and subsidiarity, the concepts of shared responsibility and personal decision-making. That meant that the kind of absolute authority that had built up around religious superiors had to be relinquished. Major decisions began to be shared with the community at large. Personal decisions began to be entrusted to the sisters themselves, all adult and educated women who had been deprived of the minutest decision-making: for example, the hour at which they would go to bed; the right to make a doctor’s appointment; the structure of their lives between prayer times. Major superiors began to be expected — and allowed — to be Jesus-figures in the community, spiritual leaders not lawgivers, not monitors, not queen bees.

In the second place, religious had to learn to integrate themselves into the society they were attempting to serve. That did not necessarily mean eliminating a kind of symbolic dress, but it did mean updating it in a way designed to simplify rather than to separate. Most women religious chose, like Jesus, to set out to be the sign rather than do it the easy way and wear the sign.

Grave and sober voices everywhere warned women religious that to do something like that would eliminate generations of respect from the people around them. I can only speak personally for my own community, of course, but I can promise you that separated from the people, locked away from the world like specters from another planet, and dressed to prove how special we were in relationship to everyone else around us generated nowhere near the mutual respect the community feels now from those who come to the community to seek spiritual support, to search out individual sisters for compassion and guidance, and to take their rightful places with us in ministry and spiritual reflection.

Finally, addressing the questions of the time that plague the world — peace, justice, women’s issues, sustainability — and admitting the questions undermining the current credibility of the church, as well — clericalism, sexism, sexuality, the implications of interfaith societies — make sisters honest and caring members of a pilgrim church.

From where I stand, the church hierarchy itself could well take the opportunity, the crossroad, that Benedict provides us now and themselves do a little demystifying, a large bit of collegiality and a serious amount of communal discernment with the people of God on the great issues of the time.

It means being willing to learn something from women, of course. But then, if they could do that they would be almost a third of the way to the goal already, wouldn’t they? Now there’s a thought.

[Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister's column, From Where I Stand, is on the NCR website at NCRonline.org/blogs/where-i-stand.]

The Catholic Church’s Lost Hope


By the Rev. Paul Surlis March 3, 2013

A half century ago, the Catholic Church had a chance for reform in the Second Vatican Council, with a young advocate in Joseph Ratzinger. But reactionary popes shunted reform aside, with Ratzinger later joining them as Pope Benedict XVI. That lost hope has put the Church in today’s crisis, says the Rev. Paul Surlis.


A Church with a “disfigured” face. That is Pope Benedict XVI’s description of how the Catholic Church sometimes is seen because “of sins against the unity of the church.” He said this in his last public Mass, but he offered no reflections on the role he himself played in this disfigurement, especially by his consistent refusal since around 1968 to embrace the structural changes and progressive teachings endorsed for the Church by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Benedict, as Joseph Ratzinger, an expert at the council, explained and enthusiastically endorsed the reforming trends of the council. After each of the council’s four sessions, Dr. Ratzinger wrote a pamphlet-length account of what had transpired during the preceding session and these reflections were subsequently collected in a book, Theological Highlights of Vatican II.

Pope Benedict XVI, the former Joseph Ratzinger. (Photo credit: Kancelaria Prezydenta RP)

Long out of print the book was republished fairly recently by Paulist Press and it provides us with  an excellent guide to the council’s teachings from which unfortunately Dr. Ratzinger has retreated. He conveniently ignored the fact that an ecumenical council canonically exercises “supreme power over the entire church,” as he himself expressed it.

One of the great structural changes envisaged by the council was a transition from a centralized, monarchical papacy where one person, the pope, assisted by the curial cardinals, has absolute power over the universal church to a church that would be governed by the bishops of the entire church in union with the pope. As the twelve apostles were with and under Peter, so the bishops should be with and under the pope. And, according to the council’s vision, the wisdom of the People of God, i.e. rank-and-file members of the Church, should always be consulted.

As part of collegiality it was intended that a synod representing the bishops of the universal church would be permanently in session and involved in church governance and would control the Curia, which would be forced to serve the pope and bishops as a civil service. However, the Curia reasserted itself after the council and now plays a dominant role in the universal Church.

A Failure at Reform

Vatican II’s deep structural changes have yet to be implemented, witness recent reports of corruption in the Curia. Fortunately, what these changes should entail is laid down in the section on collegiality in the Constitution on the Church (#22), in the formulation of which Dr. Ratzinger played a notable role.

A truly collegial church might well have avoided scandals and episcopal malfeasance in transferring priests guilty of sexual abuse, especially of minors, to conceal the wrongdoing, but unfortunately implementing collegiality and an independent synod of bishops is still a dead letter.

Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) made it clear at the outset of his papacy that the role of the bishops was to assist him in his ministry, not to exercise any sort of independent governance with and under him as the council envisaged. Coincidentally, the emphasis on reasserting absolute obedience to Paul VI’s condemnation of the use of contraceptives was as much about vindicating papal power as it was about the actual use of contraceptives.

Some national conferences of bishops reacted to dissension from Pope Paul’s teaching by stressing that decision-making about contraceptives was a matter of conscience for married couples, not simply one of unquestioning obedience. Even a controlling pope like John Paul II could not cause lay people to veer from a course on which more and more of them had begun to embark in the early 1960s. Still it appears that he deeply resented those episcopal conferences which endorsed the right in conscience to disagree with papal teaching.

And so, he too ignored in practice the council’s teaching on collegiality. He also curtailed the teaching role of national conferences of bishops because he disagreed with their consulting lay people as they formulated teaching on peace, nuclear weapons and economic justice, which were critical of some U.S. policies in these areas.

Backing Away

While Cardinal Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) from 1982-2005, there is little evidence that he urged John Paul to endorse the complete progressive agenda of the council.

Instead Cardinal Ratzinger targeted theologians for repressive surveillance, and he engendered a mood of fear and anxiety in theologians who were seeking to explore issues like the ordination of women and of married men in order to overcome a priest shortage that was depriving the People of God in many areas of ministry and especially of Eucharist to which they have a divine right.

Indeed, at one point Pope John Paul declared the issue of the ordination of women as definitively settled, something that was beyond his capacity to do. No one, not even a pope, can declare settled definitively or otherwise an issue that has just begun to be explored by theologians and historians and which the People of God were discerning prayerfully.

John Paul smuggled the aura of infallibility into a discussion where it did not belong. In reality, he was imposing his will on the Church, an exercise in a voluntarism (the will of the superior has the force of law) that has traditionally been rejected  in Catholic moral tradition. And in this John Paul was supported by Cardinal Ratzinger, who in his own papacy acted punitively towards proponents of the ordination of women.

There are no valid reasons in scripture or in the Church’s tradition that rule out the ordination of women. Women who were leaders in the Jesus movement routinely presided at liturgies and celebrated Eucharist, but today every effort is made to maintain the Church as a patriarchal community.

The anger displayed at the mention of the ordination of women reminds one of the hostility prejudiced whites in the South exhibited towards the struggle for rights for African-Americans and in both cases it was maintenance of the power structure – in one case white supremacist and in the other patriarchal – that was at stake.

Ratzinger’s Reversal

A burning question is why did Dr. Ratzinger turn his back on council teaching and its progressive agenda? And the answer has much to do with the student revolt of 1968 which scared Dr. Ratzinger. The great deference shown to German professors gave way to jeering and cat-calls. He himself speaks of noticing “all kinds of terror, from subtle psycho-terror up to violence” in university assemblies in which he participated.

But was a student rebellion enough to make him set aside his deepest convictions about the council and become himself someone who morally browbeat others with whom he disagreed? A case in point is Leonardo Boff, one of the most insightful theologians of liberation who was hounded out of the Brazilian community of theologians by Cardinal Ratzinger, who appears not to have grasped what the theology of liberation meant to the poor and oppressed and the promise it held for the universal church.

As pope, Benedict surprised many with his valuable social teaching. He was called the “green pope” because of his advocacy of responsible stewardship of the environment. Benedict denounced predatory capitalism and – in the wake of the global financial collapse – he suggested valuable structural reforms for global capitalism, a system he saw as especially failing the needs of the poor. However, his drumbeat of criticism of homosexuality as intrinsically evil and his constant references to abortion tended to drown out his social message.

The Way Forward

Now that Benedict is retired and the search for a new pope is underway, it is time to ask what the principal concerns of a pope should be. It is clear now from stories of scandals both financial and sexual within the Curia and the Vatican that structural reform is imperative.

Collegiality needs to be implemented so that the bishops of the world have a role in running the universal church with and under the pope. If Benedict had more input from a synod really representing the global episcopate, he would have made fewer gaffes as pope and things would not have deteriorated to the point they are now

Aside from structural reform there is need to thoroughly rethink the teaching function of the pope and of the Church itself. Moral teaching framed in “Thou shalt nots” is tiresome and mostly ignored. It makes large numbers of divorced and remarried Catholics – as well as those unmarried but living with partners both straight and gay and those practicing contraception – feel excluded from the Church, which regards them as second-class citizens.

The Church as teacher should model and reflect often on Christianity as a pilgrimage toward God and happiness. The primary emphasis should be on virtues, not sin. There is a well-developed virtue ethics that deals with courage, prudence, temperance and justice as well as emphasizing the virtues of faith, hope and charity, which give a foretaste of  happiness and life with God, the goals of life’s journey.

People – young people especially – are hungry for spiritual experience they seek to live lives liberated by the freedom guaranteed by Christ. We all seek the truth, the good, the true, the beautiful; we seek uplift and authentic religious experiences. But we are experiencing a “crisis of faith in the Gospel itself,” as Timothy Shriver argues in his excellent piece, “The Vatican needs a mystic” (Washington Post, March 1).

Some people may be put off by the word “mystic” but they should not be. Shriver writes: “A mystic is … a person who has had an experience of God’s love so unmistakable that it changes him or her forever, imparting a confidence that cannot be shaken, a humility that cannot be doubted, a freedom that exudes love and gentleness and authenticity. A mystic knows from experience, not books, that we are each beautiful beyond our understanding, loved beyond our capacity to love, united beyond our perception of difference and division.”

Becoming better lovers of God and Christ, as Shriver says, “we can become better lovers of other human beings.” Surely this is exactly the right description of what the next pope should be about, making us better lovers of the Divine Mystery and of others. One hopes that the Cardinal electors will put Shriver’s agenda at the forefront of the criteria driving their search for a new pope.

Paul Surlis taught moral theology and Catholic Social teaching at St. John’s University, New York  from 1975-2000. He is now retired and living in Crofton, Maryland.

First Published on http://consortiumnews.com/2013/03/03/the-catholic-churchs-lost-hope/


Is a Catholic Church without a pope possible?

First published on http://iglesiadescalza.blogspot.ie/2013/02/is-catholic-church-without-pope-possible.html

While most commentators are debating about how the next Pope should be elected or who should fill those shoes, Eduardo Hoornaert, a Brazilian married priest and church historian, suggests it might be time to question the entire institution of the papacy. Hoorneart, one of the founders of Comissão de Estudos da História da Igreja na América Latina (Study Commission on the History of the Church in Latin America), is author of The Memory of the Christian People (Burns & Oates,1989). For those who speak Portuguese, Hoorneart maintains a blog,Textos de Eduardo Hoornaert. This article, translated here into English by Rebel Girl, is available in its original Portuguese on Amerindia and in Spanish on Adital.
The announcement of the resignation of Benedict XVI surprised me, as happened to many people. I am struck by the simplicity with which the Pope expresses his feelings and I think that, by doing so, it helps to unblock a static view of the papacy and opens a timely space for discussions about the governance of the Catholic Church, and not just his gesture in particular. That’s what I intend to do in this text. My question is this: does the Catholic Church even need a pope? Point by point:
1. The Papacy
The papacy is not connected to the origin of Christianity. The term “pope”, for example, doesn’t appear in the New Testament. As for the verses of the Gospel of Matthew (“Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” — 16:18), which are often invoked to legitimize the papacy, it is good to remember that the current exegesis is categorical when it states that you can’t isolate a text from its literary whole and turn it into an oracle. Now Matthew’s verses are used, at least in the institutional Catholic Church, as an oracle. But whoever reads the Gospels in context understands that it is absurd to think that Jesus had planned a corporate type of apostolic dynasty based on the succession of power. The words “Thou art Peter” have nothing to do with the institution of the papacy. It was Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, theorist of the universalist policy of emperor Constantine, who, in the fourth century, began to draft a list of successive bishops for the major cities of the Roman Empire, in many cases without verifying the veracity of the names listed, to adapt the Christian system to the Roman model of power succession. This bishop-author is the creator of Peter-pope image. But historical research points to a different perspective and shows that the word “papa’” (pope), which belongs to the popular Greek in the 3rd century, is a term derived from the Greek word “pater” (father) and expresses the affection that Christians had for certain bishops and priests. The term entered the Christian vocabulary, both of the Orthodox church and the Catholic Church. In Russia, even today, the pastor of the community is called “pope”. The story goes that the first bishop to be called “papa” was Cyprian, bishop of Carthage between 248 and 258, and that the term only appeared later in Rome — the first bishop of that city to be named pope (according to available documentation) was John I in the 6th century.
2. The Episcopacy
In contrast to the papacy, the episcopal institution has solid roots in the origin of Christianity, as it refers to a function that already existed in the Jewish synagogue system. The word “bishop” (which means “overseer”) is found several times in the texts of the New Testament (1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 2:25 and Acts 20:29) as well as the noun “episcopate” (1 Timothy 3:1). In Jewish synagogues, the “episcopos” was responsible for good order in the meetings and the first Christian communities did nothing more than adopt and adapt the name and function.
3. The Struggle for Power
Starting in the 3rd century, a bitter power struggle unfolded among the bishops of the four main cities of the Roman Empire (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Rome). This struggle was particularly dramatic in the eastern part of the empire, where they spoke Greek. The bishops in dispute were called “patriarchs”, a term that couples the Greek “pater” with political power (“archè” in Greek means “power”). The patriarch is both father and political leader. At the beginning, Rome was not involved much in this dispute, since it took place far from the great centers of power of the time and used a less universal language (one only used in administration and in the army), Latin. In turn, Jerusalem, the “mother” city of the Christian movement, was out of the running because of being a city of little political importance.
But even so, Rome was asserting itself in the western part of the empire. The aforementioned Bishop Cyprian of Carthage responded energetically to the hegemonic pretensions of the Bishop of Rome and insisted that a “complete equality of functions and power” must reign between bishops. But the course of history was relentless. The successive patriarchs of Rome managed to expand their authority and raised their voices more and more, especially after the successful alliance with the emerging Germanic power in the West (Charlemagne, 800). Relations with the Eastern patriarchs (especially with the patriarch of Constantinople) became ever more tense until they broke down in 1052. So began the history of the Roman Catholic Church as such.
4. The pope is on the side of the strongest
Once it “owned the turf”, Rome continued to develop the “art of the court” learned in Constantinople in an ever more sophisticated way. Virtually all the Western European governments learned the art of diplomacy with Rome. It was an unedifying art, including hypocrisy, falsehood, appearance, ability to deal with people, impunity, secrecy, codified language (inaccessible to outsiders), pious (and misleading) words, cruelty masked as charity, financial accumulation (indulgences, threats of hell, a ministry of fear, etc.). The imposing Criminal History of Christianity, in 10 volumes, which historian K. Deschner just finished, describes this eminently papal art in detail.
It was mainly through the art of diplomacy that, throughout the Middle Ages, the papacy had phenomenal successes. Without weapons, Rome faced the greatest powers of the West and won (Canossa 1077). One result was, in the words of historian Toynbee, the “intoxication of victory”. The pope began to lose touch with reality and went to live in an unreal universe, full of supernatural words (which nobody understood). As Ivone Gebara has well observed, some of them are still in vogue, such as when it is said that the Holy Spirit will elect the next pope.
With the advent of modernity, the papacy gradually lost public space. In the 19th century, especially during the long pontificate of Pius IX, it was clear that the old strategy of opposing the “powers of this world” no longer worked. It didn’t bring more victories, it only registered losses. So, Pope Leo XIII decided to change the strategy and initiated a policy of supporting the strongest. This strategy worked throughout the 20th century — Benedict XV came out of World War I on the side of the victors, Pius XI supported Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, while Pius XII practiced a policy of silence on the crimes against humanity committed during World War II at the cost of countless human lives. After a brief interruption with John XXIII, the policy of silent support for the powerful (and generic words of consolation for the losers) continues to this day.
5. The papacy is a problem today.
Because of all this, it can be said today that the papacy is not a solution but a problem. One doesn’t say the same of the Episcopacy, which has shown bright spots in recent times. Besides the martyr bishops (like Romero and Angelelli), we here in Latin America had a generation of exceptional bishops between the 1960s and the 90s. Moreover, the Second Vatican Council put forward the idea of episcopal collegiality in order to strengthen the power of the bishops and limit the power of the pope. But it ran into an impassable wall, made of a mixture of mental laziness (the law of least effort), fascination with power (Walter Benjamin), the yielding of the weak to the powerful (Machiavelli) and courtly art (Norbert Elias). Still, it is worth remembering that Catholicism is bigger than the Pope and that the significance of the values conveyed by Catholicism is greater than its current system of government.
6. Can the Catholic Church survive without a pope?
Asking if the Catholic Church can survive without the pope is the same as asking whether France can survive without a king, England without a queen, Russia without a czar, Iran without an ayatollah. France didn’t end with the death of King Louis XIV and Iran certainly won’t end with the end of the reign of the ayatollahs. There will certainly be resistance and longing, attempts to return to the past, but institutions don’t die with changes in government. In general, the movement of history towards greater democracy and popular participation is undeniable. Sooner or later, the Catholic Church will have to face the issue of the papacy being surpassed by a system of central government more in tune with the times in which we live.
In conclusion one could say that the current eagerness to make predictions about the future pope could have a counterproductive effect. For it’s not about the Pope, but the papacy as kind of government. The behavior of the mainstream media these days, proves what I’m writing here. It doesn’t focus on the papacy, but on the pope. With that, it reinforces the papal syndrome. For TV, the pope is big business. The success of the funeral of Pope John Paul II a few years ago showed major media planners the financial potential of major papal events. That is why the mainstream media today is so “catechetical”. It discloses the basics of papal catechism — the pope is the successor of Peter, the first pope; the election of a pope, ultimately, is the work of the Holy Spirit; one can not miss the plenary indulgence granted exceptionally by God at the first blessing of the new pope. It’s what we’ll be seeing in the coming weeks. Maybe it would be better not to talk much about the pope these days, but work on topics that prepare the church of the future.
I’ll end here by sketching two recent examples with respect to this problem. Few people know that, back in 1980, Cardinal Aloisio Lorscheider came to talk with Pope John Paul II about the decentralization of power in the church. There is no written or photographed record of this discussion, but it seems that the pope was open to suggestions from the Brazilian cardinal, as was stated in the encyclical “Ut unum sint“. This point was noted by José Comblin one of his last works, “Problemas de governo da igreja” (“Problems of church government”). I think the pope didn’t move forward only because he didn’t see in the Church a real political will to move toward decentralization of government. In this case, it was clear that the problem isn’t the pope, but the papacy.
A very different example, but pointing in the same direction, is given by another Brazilian bishop Helder Camara. Arriving in Rome to attend Vatican II (he had not traveled to Europe before), the Brazilian was surprised by the behavior in the Roman court to the point of having hallucinations, as he tells in his circular letters. Once, during a session at St. Peter’s Basilica, he had the impression of seeing the emperor Constantine invade the church mounted on a handsome horse in full gallop. Another time, he dreamed that the pope went crazy, threw his tiara in the Tiber and set fire to the Vatican. He would say, in informal conversations, that the pope would do well to sell the Vatican to UNESCO and rent an apartment in central Rome. I observed personally on several occasions how Dom Helder hated “papal secrecy” (one of the instruments of power of Rome). At the same time, the Brazilian bishop maintained a sincere friendship with Pope Paul VI, which shows, once again, that the problem is not the pope, but the papacy as an institution.

Patriarchy writ large at papal conclave

On Thursday morning, I was a guest on the Diane Rehm Show, which airs on NPR stations across the nation. The topic was, of course, the departure of Pope Benedict XVI, the latest in scandal news swirling around the Vatican, and the coming conclave.

One of the questions surfacing on the show and in many interviews (including the ones I do on Interfaith Voices) is this: What qualities are needed in the new pope?

Many guests say we need someone who can “clean house” at the Vatican, aka get the Roman Curia into shape. Others talk about the need for a good communicator, and someone who can teach the gospel effectively in the 21st century.

More and more, my answer is this: someone who is willing to renounce patriarchy.

That means someone who could, and would, inaugurate a “Council of the People of God” for the church. This would not be a council of bishops like Vatican II. Yes, it would include bishops and priests, but it would be composed mainly of lay people — women as well as men — from all the cultures and continents of the world.

Done right, think of what a glorious gathering that might be!

And as I watch what’s unfolding in Rome, I believe I am watching the final states of a dying patriarchy. The pompous costumes, the rituals, the all-male decision makers are straight out of the courts of Europe in the 17th or 18th centuries.

And then I look at those who will vote in the conclave: no women, no married people, no one from a younger generation.

This cannot last if the church is to have the least bit of relevance in the 21st century. Wasn’t it Vatican II that said “the church is the People of God?”

The Vatican is stuck in a monarchical past

The Vatican is stuck in a monarchical past

Cardinal Angelo Sodano (CNS/Paul Haring) . ..

An Analysis by Tom Roberts | Feb. 27, 2013 The National Catholic Reporterhttp://ncronline.org/news/vatican/vatican-stuck-monarchical-past

A coincidental confluence of monarchical events occurred in 2005, during the period between the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI. In a span of less than three weeks, John Paul died (April 2), Prince Rainier of Monaco died (April 6), Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were married (April 9) in England, and Benedict was elected pope (April 19). Through all of it the international media followed the flow of mourners, celebrators and ornately bedecked imitations of bygone eras as they made their way from castles to famous churches and back. It was a manner of reverse time-travel. All of the braided gold rope and draped epaulettes, feathered hats, shiny silver helmets, chests full of medals, gilded coaches, and endless reminders of dead kings and popes was enough to almost convince one that an age of Renaissance princes had somehow been recreated. But there were differences, quickly apparent, among the pageants. In England and Monaco, amid joy and sorrow, the principals, privileged as they might be, walked as 21st-century intruders upon ancient ceremonials. They bore contemporary, real-life scars of tragic deaths and love gone sour. There was no retreat into some insular spirituality, no hiding away in a religious culture, though religion brought the most profound meaning to the events. The talk in these settings was not about some metaphysically infused heroic suffering. It was just suffering of the human sort, which is holy enough, the kind most of us bear no matter how elite, the kind where relationships need tending and there are children and others to worry about. In London and Monaco, the artifacts of royalty were symbols in service to a faded reality. In Rome, the principals, privileged in their purple and red with matching skullcaps, in their fine lace and elaborate liturgical regalia, were ancient intruders trying to stave off 21st-century reality. In this monarchy, symbol is reality, or yet attempts to be, and the acting out daily occurs in the manner of court behavior and palace intrigue, much of it in secret and in service to a very alive clerical culture. This triptych of monarchical display, England to the north, Monaco to the south and Rome in between, was itself an incisive analysis of the complex turmoil of the contemporary church. The Vatican is stuck, an ancient seed in amber waiting for someone to undo the encrustation and return it to the tradition’s fertile soil. * * * It is not merely the outward appearance of royalty that lashes the church to unworkable governance. It is more the daily expectation that royal privilege still applies. It is the presumption that somehow, in the 21st century, with the skeletons of unyielding hierarchy all around us, this monarchy will work where others have failed. The evidence, abundant and continuing to pile up, is that in many respects it is failing miserably. One wonders if the evidence will be part of the discussion when the cardinals sequester themselves next month to perform the most secret task in their secretive culture. The churches of Europe are empty. The churches in the United States are emptying. Immigration and the growth of the church in the Southern Hemisphere are enough at the moment to balance the demographic nightmare and the effects of the ongoing scandal. If past is prologue, however, we know where this tale is headed. There is little reason to believe that the flawed template that has emptied the churches of the global North — a model so dependent on accumulation of power, exclusion of women and laymen, and an ever more insular clerical culture — will work differently in Africa, Asia or Latin America. One need not look long or far for the signs pointing toward a future unraveling of the institution in those places. The horrid truth, most vividly exemplified in the priest sex abuse scandal and cover-up, is that church leaders have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that the natural instinct of the clerical culture is to protect itself at all costs. That abuse occurs elsewhere, from homes to Boy Scout troops to schools and even other faith groups, may be consolation to some. As an institution, however, the church has shown itself to be singular in its determination and its elaborate schemes designed to hide so much sin and crime from so many for so long. The cover-up of the abuse, with its intricate deceptions and denials, is the element proving ruinous to the church because it betrays the community at its deepest, sacramental level. Civil society will get its due, or as much of it as can be managed, however imperfectly, through law enforcement and the courts. The community, on the other hand, seeks healing that only the truth can supply. * * * Conclaves always raise hopes and expectations that a new figure in charge will mean a fresh direction, a new approach to fixing problems. But it is a naive hope if it doesn’t recognize what is glaringly apparent: The men most responsible for the greatest damage the church has suffered in centuries are the ones who will be gathering to select the pope. The cardinals assembled in conclave will include two from the United States — Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, both retired — whose careers symbolize the serious breach of trust that exists in many locations between hierarchy and the faithful. They will be joined by Cardinal Sean Brady, whose role in the cover-up of Ireland’s sex abuse saga goes back to his days as a priest and canon lawyer. They are three of the most prominent participants who will serve as reminders to others in the room of the ugly, secret truths about abuse of power and privilege that exist in chancery office files and rectories around the world, and of the utter lack of accountability required of members of the hierarchy. Unable to vote, but overseeing the activities leading up to the conclave, will be the notorious Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, who has a long and well-documented record of protecting some of the worst perpetrators of fraud and sexual abuse the Vatican has known in recent decades. He attempted to block investigations and as recently as last year dismissed the abuse crisis as “petty gossip.” In other settings, such perpetuation of ineptitude, disregard for the community and sheer corruption would be the engine of its own dissolution. After all, the Wall fell, there was an Arab Spring. Even Burma decided it had to change to survive. The church has come some distance since the last century, when popes still had subordinates kneel before them, sometimes for extended periods, and when they yet believed the church to be “a perfect society, supreme in its own order.” The next pope will have to confront the question of how much further the church yet needs to go. Also glaringly evident about the group of electors is that none is married and none is a woman. It would be extremely rare if any of them has raised children or been responsible for providing a household budget. Theirs is most often a world removed. Whoever is selected will have to gauge whether his agenda overrides the compelling need to answer some fundamental questions: What caused so many of our leaders in so many places to violate the very core of our sacred texts? At what point in their training or in the course of their vocations did they come to understand that self-interest and protection of the clergy culture overrides all else? And for the church in general: What do leaders do when fear no longer works to bring the crowds to church and to keep the faithful in line? Benedict’s words at his last public Mass as pope were hardly triumphal. He acknowledged the “sins against the unity of the church, of the divisions in the body of the church.” One wonders if he had in mind the palace culture and the lust for power within it. He urged witnessing the faith “so that we can reveal the face of the church and how this face is at times disfigured.” That is a deeply disturbing image. The words acknowledge what we all know: The church is far from perfect. Knowing that the profound goodness of God’s church will prevail — living as we do within the inexplicable mix of divine and human responsibilities — doesn’t excuse us from the work to be done. The institution has withstood two millennia of scandals and misdirection, ignorance and arrogance. It will certainly withstand this moment. First, however, the truth must be told. And then the palace and its culture might finally surrender to their rightful place somewhere in the distant past

With The Pope’s Resignation, Everything Has Changed

Workers remove a painting of Pope Benedict XVI from the press conference room after the head of Spain's Catholic Church and President of the Bishops' Conference Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela add

Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Fairfield University


Archbishop O’Brien, the disgraced leader of Catholics in Scotland, won’t be the last casualty of the current Vatican shakeout precipitated by Benedict XVI’s resignation.  The question now is not whether the Church will survive, but how and for whom.

The most long-lasting outcome of the decision by Joseph Ratzinger — “Benedict XVI” seems passé already — to resign from the papacy continues to be the act itself. We have not come close to absorbing this.  While there have been other cases of papal resignation in the last two millennia, they have little bearing on this moment. This is different.

As with the decision to divorce or leave the country or have the surgery after all, our attention at first was consumed with the clutter of detail: the rules of the conclave, the renovation of the residence deep in the Vatican, what happens to the papal ring.

We know the drill.  There will be a conclave, white smoke, a figure in brocade will be presented to the joyful crowd below, a subdued yet authoritative narrator’s voice commenting as I watch the scene on cable.  I follow the news closely, I may opine on the choice, perhaps you’ll read my words in your newspaper as I note the significance of an Italian (stability, housecleaning at the Curia) or an African (global Catholicism!) or that guy from Quebec (pro-family conservatism, Canadian-ness).

But everything has changed.  Whoever it may be, his papacy will be defined not by the reign of Benedict, but by Benedict’s last act, foregoing the slow swoon of a death on stage in favor of a short bow to the audience before a most purposeful exit.  The houselights have come up rather quickly and we are all struggling to our feet, gathering our things and checking our watches — until we glance sideways and see the slowly emerging and unintended consequence of this resignation in one another’s eyes: all bets are off.

The image of the barque of Peter, floating serenely through the various ages of human history, has been un-done by this one public act and the dominoes that keep falling.  From here on, as bishop of Rome, the pope does not serve above history; he serves with a college of his peers as they guide a very human church in history.  For Christians, for Catholics in particular, this distinction matters.  It does not negate the gift of the Spirit to the Church, but it re-affirms, with surprising resonance, that the Church is both a spirited and deeply human institution.  In resigning the papacy, Benedict has allowed the Church to rejoin the world.  This is potentially even more important than the necessary bloodletting about the sexual scandals that will have our attention at first.

In the world the Church re-joins, trials can make one stronger, but unnecessary suffering generally crushes its victims. If the pope can resign, a woman with a compromised uterus, for whom pregnancy means certain death, may have her tubes tied.  If the pope can resign, the pastor who gave his all with fidelity and vision for 30 years, but now sees his deep loneliness, can leave the priesthood and marry without shame. If the pope can resign, the older couple who have taken in her mother with severe dementia, risking their own health and driving their adult children away, can call that nursing home. Today.

In the world the Church re-joins, the priesthood can serve the Church, but not as its supreme exception. If the pope can resign, we can put to rest the numbing grip of clericalism.  Celibacy didn’t cause the sex abuse crisis, but the clerical fiction that celibacy makes priests holy did.  There is not more sexual abuse in the Church than elsewhere, but the perversion of clericalism geometrically increased its impact, often on the most vulnerable. Clericalism dictated that when the Church got serious about eradicating sexual abuse from the clergy, the laity received re-education.  Clericalism has kept bishops from speaking plainly about other bishops; it has put artificial barriers between priests and those they serve, and it has too often reduced the Church’s sacramental action to nothing more than pretentious superstition.

If the pope can resign, the women students I have mentored all these years can walk into their local bishop’s office and put their credentials, and their years of witnessing to the faith, on the table.  If the pope can resign, Catholics in wealthy countries might have to account for the glaring disparities, the “geographical differences,” between rich and poor parishes in a world church.  If the pope can resign, a pastor can finally give the response he’s always wanted to give to the anxious person at the wedding reception who wants to know if the Saturday afternoon wedding “counts” for Sunday mass: “It’s your call.”

Bottom line: If the pope can resign, the rest of us can say goodbye to the cult of suffering and the cultic exaltation of the priesthood — and we can welcome women to the pulpit, the poor to our table, and the laity to the exercise of their own common sense.

The pope has resigned; the bad news is tumbling out of all corners. What a relief.

First published in The Blog  25th February 2013 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-dallavalle/church-on-a-human-scale_b_2759948.htm