A Brief Meditation about Vatican Colonialism

The Only Contemporary European Colonial Power?


Colonialism is a process whereby sovereignty over one colony is claimed by the monarch of the “mother” country, who as needs arise, can impose a new government, new linguistic and cultural forms, and new social structures on the colony.

Colonialism establishes and reinforces unequal relationships between the monarch and the colony and between colonists and the indigenous peoples.

Prime reasons for the practice of colonialism:

  • To expand the power and prestige of the monarch.
  • To convert the indigenous population to the monarch’s religion, often through Christian conversion missions.
  • To instill discipline and respect for authority and to control people who are  disobediently wayward

In a few weeks, on July 4th, we citizens of the United States will, of course, once again commemorate our own Declaration of Independence from colonial servitude to the King of England.

Colonialism is demeaning and destructive. It stunts normal individual and social human growth. It restricts the development and exercise of mature responsibility and shared decision-making.

When I think about Pope Benedict sending his episcopal emissaries to Ireland for the autumn 2010 Apostolic Visitation, I get a strong sense that the Holy See may very well be the last European colonial power.

The collegiality of Vatican II and the post Vatican II stress on the importance of national conferences of bishops were healthy moves away from ecclesiastical colonialism.

More than forty years ago we Catholics said it was time to move beyond all forms of colonialism.

Colonialism has no place in the Church of Jesus Christ.


American Catholics Should be Especially Adverse to Colonialism.

We can be  proud of Archbishop John Carroll: our first American Catholic Bishop.


(1)      Carroll, first bishop of Baltimore, had respect for the Pope, but was keenly alert to the dangers of papal colonialism. He wanted no part of it for the developing Catholic Church in the United States.

(2)      Were Archbishop Carroll alive today, no doubt most of his successors in the USCCB would brand him a  disloyal and disobedient dissident — if not a first class heretic.

(3)      Carroll struggled to avoid “any dependence on foreign jurisdiction.” In 1783 when he heard that the Vatican independent of the American clergy, was about to appoint a superior for the American clergy he was enraged. He wrote to his English friend Charles Plowden:

“This you may be assured of: that no authority derived from the Propaganda will ever be admitted here. The Catholic clergy and laity here know that the only connection they ought to have with Rome is to acknowledge the Pope as the spiritual head of the Church. No congregations existing in his (Papal) States shall be allowed to exercise any share of his spiritual authority here.…If we are to have a bishop, he shall be an ordinary national bishop in whose appointment Rome shall have no share.”

Pope Benedict Appoints Apostolic Inspectors for the Church in Ireland

The visit is part of an investigation aimed at restoring and renewing the quality of Catholic life in Ireland.

An Apostolic Visitation, which was first signaled by Pope Benedict in a pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland in March,

will now take place during the Autumn of 2010.


The panel of nine “Apostolic Visitors” includes four archbishops of Irish descent, namely Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, retired Archbishop of Westminster;  Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston;  Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan, Archbishop of New York; Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins,  Archbishop of Toronto; and Archbishop Terrence Thoimas Prendergast SJ, Archbishop of Ottawa.

The Visitation will begin in the four Metropolitan Archdioceses of Ireland (Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Emly, and Tuam) and will then be extended to some other dioceses.

In its desire to promote the process of renewal of houses of formation for the future priests of the Church in Ireland, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education will coordinate the visitation of all Irish seminaries, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.

The Vatican-appointed examiner for the Irish seminaries is New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan, former rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Dolan has often bragged that when rector at NAC he rescued the place from the last vestiges of 1970s liberal theology.

Last week, in a lecture at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland, Archbishop Dolan gave a hint of his approach during the autumn visitation/examinations. On the matter of Church teaching he strongly proclaimed in his own very special rhetorical style: “To those who claim the problem is that, as a matter of fact, Church teaching is too holy, too aloof, too distant, too out of touch, I say the problem is hardly Church teaching but lack of fidelity to it.” 

Pope Benedict is particularly fond of Archbishop Dolan’s “Let’s get back to the basics” approach,  because he is convinced that Dolan (future cardinal archbishop of New York)  embodies exactly the type of dynamic orthodoxy that will help revive the Church in the United States.

Others would argue that Dolan, like Benedict, is caught in a 1950s time warp and their episcopal limousines only go in reverse.

What do the Apostolic Visitors hope to accomplish?

We can now piece together some highlights from various announcements and news reports:

(1)   Pope Benedict XVI wants his men to clamp down on liberal secular opinion in Ireland and launch an intensive drive to re-impose traditional respect for the Irish clergy. (Frankly I never thought one could impose respect for another. People – and clergy are people – either earn respect by their words and deeds or they don’t. )

(2)   The nine-member team led by two cardinals will be instructed by the Vatican to restore a traditional sense of reverence among ordinary Catholics for their priests. (See my note above.)

(3)   Irish priests will be told not to question in public the official teaching of the church about birth control and recognizing divorced Catholics, living with new partners, and welcoming them to Eucharist.

(4)   Irish theologians will be ordered to teach “traditional doctrine.” No doubt Apostolic Visitor Dolan will help to vigorously implement this policy.

(5)   Irish lay people will be strongly encouraged to attend Sunday Eucharist faithfully and  go to private confession regularly.

(6)   A major thrust of the Vatican investigation will be to counteract “materialistic and secularist attitudes,” which Pope Benedict believes have led many Irish Catholics to ignore church discipline and become lax in following devotional practices such as going on pilgrimages and doing penance.

 So there we have it. And it all makes good Vatican sense.

When all is said and (somewhat) done, pedophilia in Ireland is really the fault of Irish Catholics who have become too materialistic, too secular, too lax, and too disobedient to Holy Mother the Church.

When the going gets tough, the Church gets tough…