Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Pope Francis Could Be the Remnant

20Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.
      21A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.
      22For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea,
            Only a remnant within them will return;
            A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness.
--Isaiah 10
A cradle Catholic, reared in the church, I returned to formal worship and practice about three decades after being mostly, though not entirely, away, and came at it, sometimes, at the start, with low-grade variation on a convert’s zeal. What I came to see/feel then was that there are two churches, the institutional church and the non-institutional church. The former is political, quasi-militaristic, deeply capitalist and in great part as venal and mired in greed. The latter is spiritual, sacramental and Christ-driven. I have never had much faith in the former. I still believe in the latter. Yesterday, my husband, who is not Catholic, asked how popes are removed. He was really asking whether they can be 'impeached.’ "Well, historically," I answered, "It's been done by force. I don't think we're gonna see armies of orthodox Catholics pushing past the Swiss guards and storming the Vatican any time soon. 

This explanation does not account for the pressure that might be brought to bear on Pope Francis by his fellow prelates within the Vatican. I suppose he could succumb to pressure to resign. I hope he will not. 

I was teaching a class of sixth-graders in a Catholic school the day Pope John Paul I died suddenly after 33 (33!) days of service. I remember the chill up my spine. I’m not advancing a conspiracy theory here, but lots of popes have been murdered throughout history. The pope’s security team is, thank God, more effective than almost any, anywhere.  I don’t think it’s a reach, however, to argue that a cabal of bishops who are morally capable of systematically covering up the mass rape of children in the service of protecting the church from scandal might be morally capable of murdering a pope in order to protect a the church from scandal. 

I want Pope Francis to continue. He is, by far, the best pope we have had in the past 50 years and, I suspect, the best pope we are likely to have for decades to come. 

Pope Francis has voiced an apology, a resolution to better. It is not enough. My heart and prayers go  out to the many victims of clerical child rape and sexual abuse, but I don’t care whether the prelates or pope apologize. These words have no force.

I have never believed the Vatican could be trusted to police itself. I do not doubt that the pope allowed priests who knew to be sex crime perpetrators and harassers to minister. I don’t like it, but there only one thing the Vatican can do for the people it subjected to torment is to allow secular investigators access to records, suspects and “persons of interest” in the Vatican, and encourage clerics, other religious, to lobby for expanded rights for victims of child abuse. Beyond that, there is nothing any bishop or the pope can say to ameliorate the suffering. 

The Pope Francis can do now, for the church and for all Catholics, is to say nothing more. Which seems to be his plan.  

Some are calling for the pope to clean up the Vatican. Pope Francis cannot clean up the Vatican. The fish rots from the head. He would have to investigate and purge himself. who would replace him? Another prelate who knew. 

Many orthodox/traditionalist/conservative Catholics agree with me on the matter of Pope Francis's cognizance of the scope and nature of the the clergy sex abuse and coverup. I still don't fully grasp why this is even newsworthy Pope Francis was chosen, in part, as a means for whitewashing the Vatican, as the Pope benedict XVI morality palate cleanser. Pope Benedict was in charge of policing these sex crimes for 14 years. The pope and the emeritus are still in relationship. Until this week, I didn't ever know there was any doubt that Pope Francis was part of the coverup; I thought this was self-evident. 

But the departure of Pope Francis would be catastrophic.  

Some might ask why I would want a prelate who was complicit in the coverup to continue as pope.  He is the best pope Catholics are likely to obtain. He inherited the rapists, perverts and coverup from his predecessor. If Pope Francis were removed, he would be replaced by another prelate who took part in the coverup, but that one would be an anti-Francis. That is exactly the thing for which Vigano and his ilk currently pray. 

This sounds cynical—because it's cynical. 

I believe the Vatican is intractably corrupt. A wealthy sovereign nation, run, in a sense, by an autocrat, the Vatican yields an immense amount of international secular political power (which is why non-Catholics should care about this mess.) Within the past two weeks, news of Vatican clergy sexual abuse crisis  in the United States has chronicled abuse in Chile, Ireland and the U.S. The abuse crisis in Spain won’t come to light because Spain has all but abandoned the religious Roman Catholic Church. In the south of Spain, one finds secularized 'Catholicism' in the form of Semana Santa traditions, but I found it impossible, while spending a total of six or seven weeks in Spain between 2016-2017, to find a non-Opus Dei mass. (Opus Dei came to prominence under Franco and flourished with his support, it is goes to reason that young sentient Spaniards would reject services conducted by holdovers from fascist, Falangist Spain.) Germany gave us the woman’s ordination movement (The first Roman Catholic women priests were ordained there.) and the degree to which Latin America (both South and North America) have defected to Protestantism is astonishing.

The scandal is international, involves human rights violations and a coverup. I don't believe a schism is at hand now, but once the abuses in the developing world come to light, schism could become a reality. The Vatican should fear an International Criminal Court investigation. That might trigger an all-out schism.  

One of the problems with investigating the Vatican, especially for Catholics in the pews, is that the Vatican is opaque. We obtain some good reporting from Vatican beat scholars and reporters but often the former are devout Catholics driven by excessive concern for protecting Mother Church or reporters whose paychecks are signed by Catholic organizations. 

Often Catholics who write about the church are chastised for doing so without proper credentials. They are not "vaticanists," church historians, scholars of the papacy, systematic theologians etc. I occasionally see even writers without training in Catholicism playing this card. If one is baptized, one has a stake in the church. The verbal input and output are necessary to the health of the church. 

Compounding the problem is that a disproportionate number of "reporters" covering Catholicism are Catholic. That an entire academic and quasi-academic industry created around Roman Catholic expertise has been erected to serve as the authorized interpreters of Catholicism is a big part of the problem. Can Catholics who are being paid by Catholic publications or universities report honestly? Some can. Can writers who don't write about anything but the church be trusted to be authorities on the church. Some, perhaps can. I find that, as a rule, that many too fail in this regard. 

And with regard to amassing expertise: how many people in the pews have time to parse encyclicals and the Canon Code? How many experts on the Vatican are employed by Catholic colleges and universities that sometimes still fire heretics those who challenge doctrine and conduct of bishops, and you see how the Vatican controls the ball. I notice that women writing for Catholic publications will rarely be "out" about being pro-choice. All Catholics have much to say, but in the case of the totality of Roman Catholicism, all takes matter.  No one challenges the credentials of Catholics as they pope a check into that offertory basket on Sunday. 

Of course theologians, ecclesiologists and church historians and priests have much to teach us all, and even ones teaching in Catholic colleges and universities, have long flown in the face of doctrine—Even Pope Benedict XVI in his youth was one such theologian. But the thick tradition that has long surrounded and attended to the formation of teaching also presides over much of interpreting divinely obtained truths. We Catholics are conditioned from the time we first prepare for our first sacrament to put faith in a priestly caste that interprets the rules for us. 

It is through this very reasoning that the church enshrined the rules and regulations of Roman Catholicism. Catholics are the Christians who have, until  about 50 years ago, were discouraged, by the teaching body of the church, from actually reading The Bible. We have a natural urge to leave Catholic knowledge to experts, and the quickness to do so has, in my opinion, contributed to the abuses that have been making headlines over the course of the past few weeks. 

The woman’s ordination issue is very important to me. I am often asked by non-Catholic friends why women cannot be ordained in the Catholic Church. I, myself, asked a Catholic doctor of systematic theology this question a few years ago, and have carried her answer in my heart while researching the topic since then. I boil down the arguments against ordaining women in my May 2017 open letter to Pope Francis (and won’t do so here) but, essentially, the reason the Vatican does not ordain women is that the men in charge of the church developed a feeling—a take on revelation—that it was Jesus's preference that only men serve as priests. Men charged with interpreting that feeling, or sense, enacted the law, and men who came later ruled that such laws could not be amended by other men. People in the pews are asked to just accept such truth as teaching. 

Because so many Vatican cognoscenti are themselves too close to the cake to report dispassionately, because  and because so many who enough enough to enlighten the rest of us are too heartbroken by Mother Church, there is no way for the average Catholic to fathom the critical truths of our own religion. If a good thing can arise out of this hideous crisis at hand, it might be that Catholics in the pews, out of necessity, will begin to assume both greater agency and responsibility for challenging teaching.  

Today I read something by a Catholic woman—it was so appalling I can't/won't link to it here—in which she said the way to address the sexual abuse crisis is to keep attending mass, praying, tithing, living the Gospel in the knowledge there is no survival without the institutional church. The notion the institutional Roman Catholic Church is the lone route to Christ not only goes against Catholic teaching—it's also somewhat idiotic. I saw a comment on twitter in which a scholar argued that talking about “civil war” in the church was a form of equivalent of hoping for the eschaton. No, to say that the institutional church is broken is not, in any rational sense, to wish for the end of the world. It is to voice a concern. Another essay I read claimed there was no civil war in the church. If a situation in which every prelate in the church is credibly accused of a coverup of yet adjudicated atrocities involving children, which has various rogue factions calling for all bishops/the pope himself to resign does not constitute a civil war in the church, what does?

There is obviously a civil war at hand. The church has been bleeding out on the west for years. It's leaders are accused of grievous human rights violations. I personally will still go to mass on Sunday, but whether a civil war is being waged or not, but whether there is a civil war brewing in the institutional church is barely a legitimate question at this point. The answer is self-evident. 

I am hoping that Pope Francis will resolve, in silence, to open the Vatican to secular investigators, and then, step way from this matter and focus instead upon Christ’s message of love. This is, I believe the work cut out for him. 

I am not a Vatican expert. I am not a theologian. I can read and translate some Latin. I have read the Canon Code and Catechism in their entirety and I have read dozens of papal encyclicals. I can translate some Latin. I have worked in Catholic ministry for twenty years. I am currently a full-time religion student with a soft focus on Catholic theology. I know and cover frankly with many priests and women religious. 

For decades, nuns and priests have been informing me that the Vatican’s strongest evangelization efforts are focused on India and African nations where clergy sexual abuse is rampant and has yet to come to light. It is also in the developing world where the institutional misogyny of the church most threatens the lives of women. These stories will come out. They need to come out. The Vatican sex abuse crisis is international. 

It is difficult to write this, but I believe the Vatican should be tried at the Hague for human rights violations and the coverup, because I believe the kind of abuse chronicled in the Pennsylvania grand jury report continues to occur unchecked in India and in African nations in which the church has a strong evangelizing presence.

I pray that Pope Francis’s pontificate is not sacrificed to this greater good because I believe Pope Francis may be a man who cares as much for the suffering of his fellow human beings as for shielding the institutional church from scandal. He was installed by the monsters, but he now wields more power than those installed him do. 

Furthermore, in the United States, it is now, unfortunately, reasonably safe to assume that most of the U.S. bishops took part in a coverup of child rape and a child pornography while acting as accomplices in money-laundering and fraud. The 1970 RICO Act Act was written into law to address—exactly—this kind of crime. (RICO = Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations).  

If there are any, let the prelates who are without guilt emerge from such trials and investigations, rise up, and serve as remnants for a new, more whole, more just and more Christ-driven church. I continue to hope and pray that Pope Francis will prove to be fit to lead them. 

Michele Somerville 
August 28, 2018 NYC 2:25p

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