Friday, September 25, 2009

James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 5)

Friends, here’s a fifth (and final) excerpt from James Carroll’s book, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. As regular readers of The Wild Reed would know, I’ve recently been sharing excerpts from Part 8 (“A Call for Vatican III”) from Carroll’s book.


Democracy assumes that a clear-headed assessment of the flaws of members extends to everyone. But even the leaders of democracies, especially in the United States, salt their speeches with Christian chauvinism or an excluding religiosity, assuming that a democratic polity could be called univocal – no voices, that is, for religious minorities or those of no religion. And that, finally, is why democracy assumes that everyone must be protected from the unchecked, uncriticized, and unregulated power of each other, including the well-meaning leader. The universal experience of imperfection, finitude, and self-centeredness is the pessimistic ground of democratic hope. . . . The church’s own experience – in particular, of its grievous sin in relation to the Jews – proves how desperately in need of democratic reform the Church is.

Vatican III must therefore turn the Church away from monarchy and toward democracy, as the Catholic people have in fact already done. Vatican III must restore the broken authority of the Church by locating authority in the place where it belongs, which is with the people through whom the Spirit breathes. Vatican III must affirm that democracy itself is the latest gift from a God who operates in history, and the only way for the Church to affirm democracy is by embracing it. The old dispute between popes and kings over who appoints bishops was resolved in favor of the pope, but bishops now should be chosen by the people they serve. The clerical caste, a vestige of the medieval court, should be eliminated. Vatican III must establish equal rights for women in every sphere. A system of checks and balances, due process, legislative norms designed to assure equality for all instead of superiority for some, freedom of expression, and above all freedom of conscience must be established within the Church – not because the time of liberalism has arrived, but because this long and sorry story of Church hatred of Jews only lays bare the structures of oppression that must be dismantled once and for all.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 1)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 2)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 3)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 4)
“If the People Don’t Believe It, It’s Not True”
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Genuine Authority
Time for a Church for Grown-Ups
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Will We See Change?
The Catholic Challenge
The Treasure and the Dross

1 comment:

Liam said...

Well, if the worldwide Church were a "democracy", I would not assume the rights of women and gay folk within it would improve at all, and in fact might deteriorate.

I believe James Carroll assumes that democracy would be established under limitations that would by definition have to be set by non-democratic means. In other words, who gets to decide what the "bill of rights" and procedural rules are? Is it the entire body of the faithful? If so, shudder now. If not, then you'd have to transparently square this with all that democracy talk. In practice, this is *much* tougher than it appears in theory.

This is not idle talk. There are many areas of the world where democracy has been established in form and it has meant a deterioration of rights of minorities and the less empowered. And not all of these places are functional dictatorships. Democracy is not an unequivocal force for progress.