A New Reformation the Only Solution

I have no desire to reintroduce the guillotine. Nor do I want to see a Roman Catholic reign of terror… Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church needs a French Revolution.

The revelations about  clerical sexual abuse  in the Roman Catholic Church continue to explode like an Icelandic volcano, spreading ashes of dismay, disgust and anger across the globe…….and all knowledgeable observers agree that we still see just the tip of the iceberg.

In a recent article, sexual abuse expert and church lawyer, Fr. Tom Doyle, summarizes accurately I believe the problem and the solution.

The most common response to revelations of sex abuse of the vulnerable by priests has been denial and blame-shifting soaked in narcissistic arrogance.  The Vatican and the bishops simply don’t get it!  In the early nineties the Pope and his talking heads all distanced themselves by proclaiming that this was an American problem and a salient cause was materialism, secularism and hedonism.  Some of the more psychotic rantings blamed it on the wholesale refusal to obey the 1968 birth control encyclical Humanae Vitae. That was circa 1993.  Then Ireland exploded with the Brendan Smyth affair in 1994.  In 1995 one of John Paul II’s favorite cardinals, Hans Hermann Groer of Vienna was exposed and had to resign.  The revelations continued over the years.  The U.S. bishops organized their defense against the victims, treating them to deceitful pronouncements about how caring they are while at the same time doing everything in their power to avoid any accountability.  Their true colors are obvious…they are afraid to reach out to victims, incapable to comprehending the horror of it all and equally incapable of any form of spiritual healing.

The bishops in the U.S. and elsewhere regularly pontificate that they have made the world safer for children and they have handled the sex abuse crisis in such a superlative way that it’s now over.  The power of the papacy and the episcopacy to change reality and re-write history appears to be waning!  Over the past few months what some predicted was inevitable has happened.  May, 2009 – The Ryan Report reveals systemic torture and sexual abuse in Ireland’s Church-run orphanages and child-care institutions.  November 2009 – The Murphy Report exposes the culture of abuse, denial and dishonesty in Dublin;  February-March, 2010 – revelations of clergy sex abuse in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and…..The Vatican!

All the pope has to offer is talk…more words, more meetings, more silly press releases and the promise of a special pastoral letter.  The “problem” is not going to be fixed by the pope, the bishops or anyone who works for the institutional Church.  Why?  Because they are the problem.  The light at the end of the long tunnel will remain way out of reach until the very system that produced the dysfunctional clerics and their equally dysfunctional bishops is ended and somehow replaced with not another monarchy but something that one can readily identify with the Body of Christ.

When the Roman Empire in the West collapsed, the Church of Rome wed its structure in sickness and in health. The Bishop of Rome clothed himself in imperial grandeur; and arrogance, domination, and self-preservation replaced the Gospel values of compassion, humility, and ministry to the oppressed.

When Religion Goes Sour

The tsunami of clerical sexual abuse, now flooding the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, highlights the irony of religion. While religion can bring insight, care and redemption, it can also debase, abuse and reinforce, as well, the sinister aspirations of the human spirit. All in God’s name.

It is not surprising that unhealthy religion goes hand in hand with religious fundamentalism which is becoming the hallmark of the current papacy.

Fundamentalism is fundamentally flawed because it takes one element of the truth and proclaims it as the WHOLE TRUTH. Religious fundamentalists place such a high priority on doctrinal conformity and obedience to doctrinaire spokespersons that they sacrifice the very values which are basic to the great religious traditions: love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and caring. In their overwhelming seriousness about religion, fundamentalists do not hesitate to intervene in political and social process to ensure that society is forced to conform to the values and behaviors the fundamentalist worldview requires.

Writing in the Boston Globe on this Monday after Easter 2010, James Carroll, argues that we need to rescue Catholicism from a fundamentalist Vatican.

“The whole Catholic Church seems to be in crisis,” he writes “but what is really at stake here is the collapse not of Catholicism, but of Catholic fundamentalism.”

Carroll continues:

Fundamentalism is the raising of religious barricades against tides of change. Protestant fundamentalists use the Bible (quoting verses of scripture) as both sword and shield. Catholic fundamentalists use the papacy that way (quoting encyclicals). Today’s Vatican presides as center of a command society with global reach, attempting to exert absolute control over all aspects of Catholic life, from the major (doctrine) to the minor (altar boys). Despite the impression that even many Catholics have, such papal dominance is a modern phenomenon. The Vatican was not always a corporate headquarters, with the world’s bishops as menial regional office managers, priests as messengers, the laity as mere customers…

Surprisingly, no one saw this distortion more clearly than a pope — John XXIII, who called, yes, a council to correct it. His Vatican II (1962-65) aimed to restore the “collegiality’’ of bishops (the pope only as “first among equals’’); to reinvigorate local expressions of belief (hence worship in the vernacular); and to retrieve the “priesthood of all believers’’ as a check on clericalism. Vatican II was a step toward the democratizing of the Catholic Church, which is why Catholic fundamentalists have been seeking to undo it ever since. Fundamentalist-in-chief has been Joseph Ratzinger.

Across three decades, Ratzinger was key to the appointment of bishops whose overriding commitment was the protection of pope-centered clerical authority. Terrified of acting on their own, they had one eye eternally on Rome. “Scandal’’ was their nightmare. Between an abused child and a predator priest, their choice was always simple: protecting the power structure meant protecting the priest. That structure is the problem, which means the pope’s resignation is not the issue.

An example of what must happen now came from the American nuns who recently defied the Rome-obsessed bishops to support President Obama’s health reform bill. The nuns acted as if the reforms of Vatican II are real. Now priests and lay people must do the same, rescuing the Catholic Church from its fundamentalists, including the present pope.