For his op-ed this morning in the National Post Paul Russell has printed a selection of letters that came in answer to his question: “Can a new pope revitalize the Catholic Church?” Some of them give a scary glimpse into the minds of some Roman Catholics. Take this one, for instance:
“Revitalizing” the Catholic Church is a myth. A new pope will continue with the teaching of the Catholic Church carrying the torch handed down from Christ to Peter. Such teachings are not a compromise to please a few and displease a few others. No one can change Jesus’ teachings or the Bible. The Catholic Church is not a crowd pleaser. There is an old saying, “Those who believe in God, need no explanation. Those who don’t, no explanation will suffice.”
The idea that there is a “deposit of faith” and that the Roman Catholic Church has access to this mother-lode of all mother-lodes runs through these letters like a golden thread. One response, almost word-for-word quoting from Ratzinger’s parting remarks, says:
The Catholic Church isn’t some corporation that needs revitalizing; it is the body of Christ. Christ is the head, represented by the pope on Earth, and the body is made up of us, ordinary people who are sinners. We are the ones who need revitalizing. And we get that through the sacraments.
As Andrew Brown says, the pope’s final speeches show him hubristically fashioning a illusory vision of the church completely loyal to his teachings. He quotes this example of the pope’s self-delusion:
The church, he said this morning, is “not an organisation, not an association for religious or humanitarian goals, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. We experience the church in this way and could almost be able to touch it with our hands, the very power of his truth and love is a source of joy, in a time when many people speak of it as in decline.”
One wonders whether Ratzinger, like Alice, has passed through the looking-glass. He’s spent his pontificate sacking bishops who disagree with him — two or three a month, according to the Tablet – which means that, for every bishop appointed there was at least one disgruntled, dissenting bishop who didn’t fit so nicely into that loving ”community of brothers and sisters in the body of Jesus Christ.” Who, really, did he think he was fooling? Well, obviously, some of those who responded to Paul Russell’s question. But did he really believe it himself?
Despite the hard-headed Bavarian Rottweiler, who chivvied and chased and pounded the church into a shape that pleased him, the real issues facing his church, the sexual predators that stalked his priesthood, and even the episcopate, the uncompromising red-neck authorities who blamed — and continue to blame – it all on gay people, even though, by all accounts, the new pope emeritus is a gay man, who barely conceals his sexuality, the women who have justly ignored the church’s strictures on birth control and abortion, the young men who now avoid the priesthood like the plague, because, after all, it makes demands on people that people simply cannot fulfil: all these things came to a focus during Ratzinger’s pontificate. Of course, they were smouldering just below the surface during Wojtyła’s rule, who, despite his charisma, was a man of another century – and though he kissed the soil of every country he visited, was never a man of the soil, of the people, whose suffering he did not share and about which he did not care – set the stage for the church’s decline by taking a hard line on every single issue facing the church, defining dissent out of existence by the claim that, even when the Magisterium is mistaken, it is still right, after all. The “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian” has a very telling section entitled “The Problem of Dissent,” in which the following is said, as though it made perfect sense.
Certainly, it is one of the theologian’s tasks to give a correct interpretation to the texts of the Magisterium and to this end he employs various hermeneutical rules. Among these is the principle which affirms that Magisterial teaching, by virtue of divine assistance, has a validity beyond its argumentation, which may derive at times from a particular theology. [Section B. The Problem of Dissent; my emphasis]
A validity beyond its argumentation. Even if you show it, by argument, to be wrong, it is still valid, and still to be believed. Those words were, perhaps, the occasion of my first move away from Christian belief. I recall that, at the time this document was issued, I questioned our diocese’s continued association with the Roman Catholic Church in theological education. I was not taken seriously, basically, as I recall now (I did not save the correspondence), on the ground that such offences against rationality are common in theology, and raising such a question with our Roman Catholic partners would only be dismissed as the pot calling the kettle black — an early indication (to me, anyway) that religion does not like to be questioned too closely, and a sign that I may have laid odds on the wrong horse.
So, it is a bit worrying when people say things like this, by Adelaine Nohara, in response to Paul Russell’s question:
Revitalization will happen when Catholics live the program of the last two popes. Persecution from society does not enervate the Church, but laxity from within. Christ did not conform his teaching to the times; he died in testimony to the truth. The Church will be revitalized when Catholics are ready to do the same.
Or this, from Jessica White:
The Catholic Church in the developed world will be revitalized if and when all those who call themselves Catholic start accepting and practising what the Church actually teaches in matters of faith and morals. A new pope will make no difference if people don’t adhere to his teachings.
It is truly astonishing how readily people will surrender their intellect. This willingness to assign truth value to everything that the church teaches in faith and morals — and a glance through the Catechism of the Catholic Church will show the vastness of what these people are willing simply on trust to accept as true — but when, like Larry Jung, of Maple Ridge, B.C., this includes the imposition of these supposed “truths” on everyone in society indifferently –
A new pope can revitalize the entire human race by publicly informing true and good morals for all society. –
then we have reason to be very concerned indeed.
For this claim to global authority is precisely what the Roman Catholic Church has shown its willingness to assert. It has intervened in global conferences dealing with population and development, and has teamed up with Muslims to make sure that contraception and abortion do not find their way into international agreements. The church has regularly threatened Catholic politicians with excommunication if they vote the “wrong way” on legislation dealing with the Catholic bugbears of contraception, abortion and assisted dying. Now discredited Cardinal Keith O’Brien did precisely this in Scotland, by his fulminations against gay marriage, assisted dying, and anything else demonised by the Vatican. And the American bishops continue to face-off against the administration, and seem willing to precipitate a constitutional crisis, in order to get their way regarding the provision of contraceptive and other reproductive care to women who work for Roman Catholic health services, the scope of which the church is actively seeking to enlarge by buying up hospitals and entering into agreements with smaller health care providers. The tentacular reach of this ecclesial entity should not be minimised. It not only has great wealth, but as a number of responses to Paul Russell’s question indicate, its influence is still very strong. And for all the language of its being the ‘living body of Christ,’ it is a voluntary association just like any other, and, because it is just a voluntary organisation, it should not receive the kinds of attention that the press regularly provides for it. By doing so, the press becomes complicit in the crimes committed by the Roman Catholic Church around the world, for it perpetuates the illusion that the church really stands, somehow, apart from all the faults and foibles of the mortal world.
An example of the kind of thing that happens when organisations like the Roman Catholic Church is presented as, in some sense, genuinely transcendent and holy, is the horrific rule of “Mother” Teresa of Calcutta over the indigent and the dying. Of course we knew it already, but now a study has been done which concludes that this woman was not so saintly after all. One miracle away from sainthood, details about “Mother” Teresa, according to two Canadian researchers, Serge Larivie and Genevieve Chenard, “compromise the Albanian-born nun’s saintly image.” Indeed, repeating things already said years ago by Christopher Hitchens, who was condemned for his charges against the Albanian fraud, Larivie and Chenard claim
that many of the ‘missions’ set up by Mother Teresa were unfit their inhabitants, calling them ‘homes for the dying’ due to their poor hygiene and a shortage of food, care and medication.
The researchers believe a lack of money cannot be the reason for the poor conditions however, as Mother Teresa raised hundreds of millions of pounds during her lifetime, although much of that money appears to have vanished in into several ‘secret’ bank accounts the nun kept.
The researchers also questioned why, despite openly offering prayers and medallions bearing depictions of the Virgin Mary, Mother Teresa provided no direct or monetary aid to victims of a number of natural disasters in India.
They also accuse Mother Teresa of
… accepting a financial grant from the brutal Duvalier dictatorship, which is deemed responsible for the murders of over 30,000 Haitians between 1957 and 1986.
They also accuse Mother Teresa of spreading hardline right wing Catholic ideology, saying she held “overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception and divorce.”
All this, of course, has been known for years, even though the press has been reluctant to attack someone so widely regarded as the epitome of sainthood. The researchers go on to say that it is not all bad news, for, after all, “Mother” Teresa’s fraud did inspire many acts of genuine kindness. This is simply irresponsible, a way to say and unsay something at the same time.
It is this kind of irresponsibility that the press is guilty of in their coverage of the Vatican, and the hushed seriousness with which events in the Vatican are conventionally reported. Certainly, the Vatican has come in for its fair share of criticism lately, but where are the blunt challenges to the authority of a man who is up to his neck in guilt for the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests and other religious? Why was this man even listened to? Why had he any credibility left? Why are his farewell speeches, full of platitudes and theological boilerplate reported as though this is a man whose words are worthy of quotation? After all, he was in charge of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Inquisition, by any other name, is still the church’s secret police), and it was he who mandated the cover-up. It was he who placed victims of sexual abuse under pontifical secret, the violation of which would have meant instant excommunication and anathema, with its associated condemnation to hell and all its torments. And yet we are told, as if it mattered, that this guilty man wrought a style-change and that his true legacy was his fashion sense. Confronted by this level of stupidity in the face of evil the mind simply goes blank.