Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"The Real Battle" columnist Linda Stamato begins her February 1 column by noting how “sometimes it’s really tough to be a Catholic.” Specifically, she’s referring to the pope’s decision to revoke the excommunication of Richard Williamson, a Holocaust-denying bishop of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). It’s a papal decision that initially makes Stamato wonder: “What was [the pope] thinking?”, before she concludes that none of the explanations offered by the Vatican work. (Since the publication of Stamato’s column, the Vatican has demanded that Williamson recant his positions on the Holocaust.)

Of course, the SSPX incident is just one of a number of recent scandals that have dogged the Vatican. (For others, see
here and here.)

I have to say that in discussing and analyzing the aforementioned SSPX debacle and the furor over the disgraced founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, I particularly appreciate the succinct, insightful, and radical (in the sense of the real meaning of the word, “to get to the root of”) perspective of Colleen Kochivar-Baker.

Here is what she has to say in a recent post on her blog, Enlightened Catholicism:

What a strange couple of weeks for Roman Catholicism. First the SSPX fiasco, in many ways [a] cult of personality steeped in male monarchical power and anti-semitism, and now the Legionnaires [of Christ], a cult founded on a bisexual pedophile. The symbolism in both of these stories about the very real shadow side of Catholicism is compelling. You know, that shadow side expressed in Power, Sex and Secrecy - those very things that Vatican II was trying to root out with its notions of collegiality, openness, transparency, and sexual realism.

The real battle for the spiritual energy in Roman Catholicism has very little to do with who prefers what form of liturgy or spiritual practice. It has everything to do with Power, Sex and Secrecy and rooting these out from the way the Church does business.

To read Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s commentary, “Outing a Spiritual Cancer,” in its entirety, click here.

Postscript: Professional blogger Andrew Sullivan has also weighed in on the latest string of scandals to hit the Church. He contends that what links these scandals is not so much anti-Semitism or sex, but “the abuse of absolute clerical power.” Following is a brief excerpt from his post, A Question of Power:

In their panicked reaction to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and its expansion of lay and episcopal power within a more inclusive church, the last two Popes relied on raw papal power to get their way. They did not persuade many on, say women priests or contraception or the “objective disorder” of homosexuals. But it became pretty clear after a while that persuasion was never the point. When the Pope simply declared certain topics undiscussable - and when he enforced that silence within the Church by policing dissent and appointing generations of docile flunkies as bishops and cardinals - he was telling us that he was restoring hierarchy. Some ratcheting back was doubtless necessary in the wake of excessive experimentation in the 1970s; but it then easily degenerated into arrogance and error. That’s what dictatorships - even benign, non-coercive institutional ones - always produce. Because they have no mechanisms for self-correction.

To read Andrew Sullivan’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Fall of the Founder
- Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia, February 3, 2009).
The Holocaust Furor and the U.S. Bishops
- Peter Steinfels (New York Times, January 30, 2009).
Double Disaster at the Vatican: Of Goverance and Communication
- Sandro Magister (www.chiesa, February 4, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
An Australian Bishop’s “Radical” Call for Reform
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Beyond Papalism
Pan’s Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
Genuine Authority


Thom Curnutte said...

Thank you for introducing me to her wonderful blog!

kevin57 said...

Additionally, there's the appointment of an auxiliary bishop in Austria who said that Hurricane Katrina was punishment on New Orleans for its tolerance for "sexual sins." When Pat Robertson et al. said that this country went into an uproar, including as I recall, many U.S. bishops. I now await our bishops' renouncing this appointment. I'm sure I'll wait.

colkoch said...

Kevin, I'm sure we'll all wait. What a great comment.

colkoch said...

Michael, you need to check out the current post on Bilgrimage.

According to the right wing blogs the SSPX fiasco is a lesbian plot. Damn those interfering lesbians.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Colleen,

Thanks for sharing that link. I'll be sure to check out Bilgrimage on a regular basis.

Hi, too, to Thom and Kevin! It's always good to have you guys here.



Terence said...

There is no question that it is all about the abuse of power. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, in "Confronting Power & Sex in the Catholic Church", makes the point strongly that inappropriate power structures are at the heart of the clerical abuse scandals that have so rocked the church.

There is an important distinction though, between power and authority. True, enduring power depends on the authority that comes from consent - on the 'sensus fidelium' in the church context. Power abused leads to a withdrawal of that consent, to the loss of authority, and ultimately to the loss of power.

The strength of the outcry over SSPX, and the extraordinary turnaround by Benedict, suggests we may be starting to see that withdrawal of consent.