Church needs saving from its dysfunctional structure


The Catholic Church, aka the western church of the Latin rite, trades on tradition. That is what so fascinates many people: the lure of its continuity, the certainty, the serene provision of answers.

Pope Benedict XVI leads his last Angelus prayer before stepping down in Saint Peter's Square at the VaticanAs anyone mildly acquainted with its history will know, this is a series of illusions. Christian history, like all history, is a delicious Smorgasbord of unintended consequences, paradoxes, misunderstandings, sudden veerings in new directions.

If you like to call that the work of the Holy Spirit, then fine, but do note that the Holy Spirit delights in confounding human expectations and going its own way.

The church of Rome, having been around from near the start of the story, illustrates this general truth particularly well. Its prestige derives from possessing the tomb of the Apostle Peter, who probably never visited the city.

This Palestinian fisherman, who would have spoken a version of Aramaic, plus enough street-Greek to make himself understood in the forum, may have been illiterate in either language, but he is represented among the books of the Bible by two elegantly-penned Greek letters written by two different authors – he himself was neither of them.

The current position of the Roman Catholic Church as the largest section of world Christianity depends on a variety of later accidents. One of these – the French Revolution of 1789 – produced the modern papacy. Until then, the pope was one Italian prince among several others.

Certainly he was equipped with a dozen centuries and more of ideological baggage, bulging with his aspirations to be something universal.

But he shared his power in the church inescapably with European Catholic monarchs, prince-bishops of the Holy Roman Empire and a host of other fiercely independent local jurisdictions in cathedrals and the like, all of which were themselves the products of the happenstance of history.

The revolution dealt them a devastating blow. As its consequences unfolded, it swept nearly all away, and the first World War delivered the coup de grace.

To begin with, it looked as if the revolutionaries would do for the pope as well. Poor Pius VI died in a revolutionary prison in France, his death in 1799 being recorded by the local mayor (with chilling Jacobin wit) as that of “Jean Ange Braschi, exercising the profession of pontiff”. But the papacy drew on its historical resources and on revulsion in much of Europe against revolutionary brutality and destructiveness.

It very successfully played the tradition card to create something brand new: a monarchy for the whole western church, which increasingly eliminated competition from rival jurisdictions. The 19th century revival of Catholicism laid the foundations of the rock-star papacy of John Paul II, kissing airport tarmac and thrilling crowds with the force of his exceptional personality.

While popular participation in secular politics has grown throughout Europe and America over two centuries, precisely the reverse has happened in the church of Rome: it has eliminated any wider participation, even that of kings.

The post-revolutionary Vatican remodelled the church across the world, to eliminate independence in church government, local initiative or scholarship.

In Ireland, the process took up the later 19th century, to produce the variety of Catholic Church still easily within the memories of many, embodied by such prelates as the late and widely unlamented John Charles McQuaid.

The reforming work of the second Vatican Council (1962-1965) looked for a moment as if it would roll back this 19th-century innovation, but the curia’s bureaucrats in the Vatican were left to implement council initiatives, and we all know the results of that in the two pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Benedict, arch-traditionalist, expounding even this week a narrative of Vatican II in which nothing much happened at all to the church, has by his resignation set the church on yet another new path.

It is paradoxical but admirable that this sensitive and learned man has recognised the limits of his office. The all-powerful, all-providing papacy constructed after 1789 has simply been too much for any one man to embody, regardless of whether he is frail or old.

The cardinals whom John Paul and Benedict appointed to parrot the myth of enduring tradition will no doubt resist the implications, scrabbling around to find the most convincing representative of the post-French Revolution state of the hierarchy. But it is just possible that the Holy Spirit might seize them afresh.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful surprise for the Christian world if they reached beyond the conclave and chose someone from beyond their ranks? That’s a big ask at the moment. But look back before the French Revolution, and we can find stories to help the church in framing a more workable version of its future than the present dysfunctional structure.

At the moment, the debate between Catholic “liberals” and “conservatives” is stuck around the second Vatican Council: what happened there? Not much? A lot? Even more than a lot, but frustrated by the Curia? Let’s recognise that the debate is much older than that.

A great many Catholics over the centuries have considered a monarchical papacy a very bad idea: particularly all those monarchs, prince-bishops, cathedral chapters. They constructed coherent theologies out of their convictions.

Historians use labels for these ways of thinking which have become merely pieces of historical jargon: Gallicanism; Cisalpinism; Conciliarism.

It’s a pity that these words now seem off-putting and archaic, because once they were living affirmations that the church’s future should be decided in broader arenas than a few chambers in the Vatican palace.

That future won’t resemble the past – it never does – so I’m not suggesting we restore the Holy Roman Empire, or the heirs of Louis XVI to the French throne. But history has rich resources to offer: showing how they did things in the past, so Catholics can find sensible solutions for what to do next.

In the middle of what any fool can see is a deep crisis in Catholic Church authority, let historians ride to the rescue.

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The new pope’s three key challenges

An obstructionist Vatican, a chronic shortage of priests and a shrinking worldwide congregation: the list is daunting

By Andrew Brown

When 117 cardinals gather in Rome to choose the next pope this month, the first thing that will determine their choice is what job they are hiring the man for. Catholicism is in a crisis: the historian Diarmaid MacCulloch compares it to the great changes of the Reformation and the medieval reforms, 400 years earlier, under Pope Innocent VII.

who's next?The convulsions that started with the second Vatican council of the 1960s have still not played themselves out. On the other hand, the pope will still be a Catholic. There are not going to be female priests, and only what absolutely has to change will change. The ban on contraception will remain: the best – and the least – that can happen is that it is quietly ignored, even by the hierarchy, and no longer used as the shibboleth of orthodoxy in any priest who wants promotion. Some things can’t change, and we shouldn’t assume that the new leader will take up the agenda of the Guardian or the New York Times.

But it’s clear from the pope’s resignation that he knows things can’t go on as they are. So what does the crisis look like from Rome?

It seems to me that there are three interlocking difficulties for the church. There is crisis in the curia, the Vatican itself. There is a crisis in the clergy. And in the developed world, there is a crisis in the laity.

There is also a strategic problem in that the church must deal with the increasing militancy of Islam in the Middle East, and, beyond that, the rise of China and India. But that doesn’t require new thinking, just the application of well-practised principles.

The problems of the laity and clergy are intertwined, and in the developed world their symptom is obvious: there are not enough of either, and both are ageing rapidly and sustained only by immigration from the south.

There is little that a pope can do directly about the problem of the shrinking laity, even in an age of global travel. Wherever he goes, he can draw vast crowds, but the interest and excitement subside when he has gone. The congregations continue to drain away.

The effect has been most marked in places where Catholicism was part of the national or regional identity – Ireland, Quebec, Boston and France come to mind. But it has happened almost everywhere in the developed world. And in the countries where churchgoing has shrunk, the clergy have also got older and – by report – more gay. Seminaries have closed. More and more priests are imported from Africa, from Latin America, and from the Philippines or Vietnam.

That is something the new pope could do something about, but only by relaxing the mandatory celibacy rule. To allow the ordination of already married men on a much wider scale than already happens with Anglican converts would transform the priesthood and bind it much more closely to the laity. From the outside, such a development looks inevitable.

Whether it seems so simple inside the Sistine chapel is another question. But, if it does, the electors will choose accordingly. Paradoxically, they are more likely then to choose a cardinal from Latin America or Asia, where the celibacy rules are already widely ignored, than from Europe or North America, where they are followed in the letter, if not in spirit.

Changing the rules on celibacy would still be a convulsive step that would bring fresh problems of its own. But it may appear to the cardinals a necessary and unavoidable adjustment to a reality that can no longer be denied.

The problem of the curia is different in nature. The central administration of the Vatican is plagued by corruption allegations and obstructionism. It functions too much like the rest of Italy. A pope of enormous energy and willpower and administrative experience would be needed to clean it out. Yet this, too, may be inevitable, as the VatiLeaks scandal showed. The Italian model of politics doesn’t even work in Italy. You can’t run a global organisation on those principles.

Any loosening of central control would also be fraught with dangers for the church’s coherence. A liberal reformer might suffer the fate of a Gorbachev and be swept aside by the forces he unleashed. I suspect that the reform of the curia would be the priority of any non-Italian European, such as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria. But I doubt the electors have any great enthusiasm for the task.

Complete Article HERE!

First clause of equal marriage bill passes Committee stage in UK Parliament

Now that Cardinal O’Brian won’t be screeching from the sidelines, maybe they can get on with the business at hand.

by Joseph Patrick McCormick
The first clause of the equal marriage bill has passed in the committee considering it in the UK Parliament today.

redefining-marriageClause 1 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed committee stage 13 votes to 4, and is being considered by the Public Bills Committee in the House of Commons.

This is the first clause of eighteen to pass, as the committee must pass each clause individually, possibly making recommendations for amendments.

The first clause “makes it lawful for same-sex couples to marry. It ensures that the legal duty of clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry parishioners does not extend to same-sex couples.

“It allows same-sex civil marriage ceremonies to be carried out in register offices and on approved premises (such as hotels), and marriages of same sex couples in religious buildings (other than those used by the Church of England and Church in Wales), and in accordance with the Jewish and Quaker faiths and for overseas consular and armed forces marriages.”

Earlier in February, MPs in the British Parliament voted in favour of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill by 400 to 175, a majority of 225.

The bill is currently receiving greater parliamentary scrutiny – after the Commons committee has completed its work – the bill will then be subjected to another vote (third reading) by MPs and it will then undergo a similar process of approval in the House of Lords.

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Pope to be called ’emeritus pope,’ will wear white

Gee, I wonder who came up with these new rules?  Benedict will be the puppet master, running everything, but just doing so out of the spotlight.  NICE!  This is what he wanted all along. The man was never interested in relinquishing power, he just wanted to blow off the ceremonial duties and deflect attention away from his criminality.  Astonishing!

Pope Benedict XVI will be known as ‘‘emeritus pope’’ in his retirement and will continue to wear a white cassock, the Vatican announced Tuesday, again fueling concerns about potential conflicts arising from having both a reigning and a retired pope.

a_most_evil_640_08The pope’s title and what he would wear have been a major source of speculation ever since Benedict stunned the world and announced he would resign on Thursday, the first pontiff to do so in 600 years.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Benedict himself had made the decision in consultation with others, settling on ‘‘Your Holiness Benedict XVI’’ and either emeritus pope or emeritus Roman pontiff.

Lombardi said he didn’t know why Benedict had decided to drop his other main title: bishop of Rome.

In the two weeks since Benedict’s resignation announcement, Vatican officials had suggested that Benedict would likely resume wearing the traditional black garb of a cleric and would use the title ‘‘emeritus bishop of Rome’’ so as to not create confusion with the future pope.

Benedict’s decision to call himself emeritus pope and to keep wearing white is sure to fan concern voiced privately by some cardinals about the awkward reality of having two popes, both living within the Vatican walls.

Adding to the concern is that Benedict’s trusted secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, will be serving both pontiffs — living with Benedict at the monastery inside the Vatican and keeping his day job as prefect of the new pope’s household.

Asked about the potential conflicts, Lombardi was defensive, saying the decisions had been clearly reasoned and were likely chosen for the sake of simplicity.

‘‘I believe it was well thought out,’’ he said.

Benedict himself has made clear he is retiring to a lifetime of prayer and meditation ‘‘hidden from the world.’’ However, he still will be very present in the tiny Vatican city-state, where his new home is right next door to the Vatican Radio and has a lovely view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

While he will no longer wear his trademark red shoes, Benedict has taken a liking to a pair of hand-crafted brown loafers made for him by artisans in Leon, Mexico, and given to him during his 2012 visit. He will wear those in retirement, Lombardi said.

Lombardi also elaborated on the College of Cardinals meetings that will take place after the papacy becomes vacant — crucial gatherings in which cardinals will discuss the problems facing the church and set a date for the start of the conclave to elect Benedict’s successor.

The first meeting isn’t now expected until Monday, Lombardi said, since the official convocation to cardinals to come to Rome will only go out on Friday — the first day of what’s known as the ‘‘sede vacante,’’ or the vacancy between papacies.

In all, 115 cardinals under the age of 80 are expected in Rome for the conclave to vote on who should become the next pope; two other eligible cardinals have already said they are not coming, one from Britain and another from Indonesia. Cardinals who are 80 and older can join the College meetings but won’t participate in the conclave or vote.

Benedict on Monday gave the cardinals the go-ahead to move up the start date of the conclave — tossing out the traditional 15-day waiting period. But the cardinals won’t actually set a date for the conclave until they begin meeting officially Monday.

Lombardi also further described Benedict’s final 48 hours as pope: On Tuesday, he was packing, arranging for documents to be sent to the various archives at the Vatican and separating out the personal papers he will take with him into retirement.

On Wednesday, Benedict will hold his final public general audience in St. Peter’s Square — an event that has already seen 50,000 ticket requests. He won’t greet visiting prelates or VIPs as he normally does at the end but will greet some visiting leaders — from Slovakia, San Marino, Andorra and his native Bavaria — privately afterwards.

On Thursday, the pope meets with his cardinals in the morning and then flies by helicopter at 5 p.m. to Castel Gandolfo, the papal residence south of Rome. He will greet parishioners there from the palazzo’s loggia (balcony) — his final public act as pope.

And at 8 p.m., the exact time at which his retirement becomes official, the Swiss Guards standing outside the doors of the palazzo at Castel Gandolfo will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church now finished.

Benedict’s personal security will be assured by Vatican police, Lombardi said.

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal’s departure darkens mood as pope allows early conclave

By Philip Pullella

A senior cleric resigned under duress on Monday and Pope Benedict took the rare step of changing Vatican law to allow his successor to be elected early, adding to a sense of crisis within the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI leads his last Angelus prayer before stepping down in Saint Peter's Square at the VaticanWith just three days left before Benedict becomes the first pope in some six centuries to step down, he accepted the resignation of Britain’s only cardinal elector, Archbishop Keith O’Brien, who was to have voted for the next pope.

O’Brien, who retains the title of cardinal, has denied allegations that he behaved inappropriately with priests over a period of 30 years, but said he was quitting the job of archbishop of Edinburgh.

He could have attended the conclave despite his resignation, but said he would stay away because he did not want media attention to be focused on himself instead of the process of choosing the next leader of the 1.2 billion-member Church.

O’Brien’s dramatic self-exclusion came as the Vatican continued to resist calls by some Catholics to stop other cardinals tainted by sex scandals, such as U.S. Cardinal Roger Mahony, from taking part.

Catholic activists have petitioned Mahony to exclude himself from the conclave so as not to insult survivors of sexual abuse by priests committed while he was archbishop of Los Angeles.

In that post from 1985 until 2011, Mahony worked to send priests known to be abusers out of state to shield them from law enforcement scrutiny in the 1980s, according to church files unsealed under a U.S. court order last month.

“O’Brien’s recusal is also important as a precedent,” said Terence McKiernan, of, a U.S.-based documentation center on child abuse by priests.

“Many cardinals scheduled to join the conclave have been involved as bishops in handling cases of clergy sexual abuse, and some of them have done such a bad job that they too should recuse themselves from the conclave,” he said.


Benedict changed parts of a 1996 constitution issued by his predecessor John Paul so that cardinals could begin a secret conclave to choose a successor earlier than the 15 days after the papacy becomes vacant, as prescribed by the previous law.

The change means that in pre-conclave meetings starting on March 1, a day after Benedict leaves on Thursday, they can themselves decide when to start.

Some cardinals believe a conclave, held in secret in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, should start sooner than March 15 in order to reduce the time in which the Church will be without a leader at a time of crisis.

But some in the Church believe that an early conclave would give an advantage to cardinals already in Rome and working in the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration and the focus of accusations of ineptitude and alleged sexual scandals that some Italian newspapers speculate in unsourced reports led Benedict to step down. The Vatican says the reports are false.

The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new pope elected by mid-March and installed before Palm Sunday on March 24 so he can preside at Holy Week services leading to Easter.

Cardinals have begun informal consultations by phone and email in the past two weeks since Benedict said he was quitting.

Benedict’s papacy was rocked by scandals over the sexual abuse of children by priests, most of which preceded his time in office but came to light during it and which, as head of the Church, he was responsible for handling.

His reign also saw Muslim anger after he linked Islam to violence. Jews were upset over his rehabilitation of a Holocaust denier. And, during a scandal over the Church’s business affairs, his butler was convicted of leaking his private papers.

With the Italian media speculating about conspiracies and alleged sexual scandals inside the Vatican that they say may have influenced his decision to resign, the pope’s spokesman said an internal report into leaked papal documents would remain confidential and only be shown to the next pontiff.

The Vatican has accused the Italian media, some of which have called for the “Vatileaks” report to be made public, of spreading “false and damaging” rumors in an attempt to influence the cardinals as they head to Rome for the conclave.

The three cardinals who prepared the report for the Vatican met the pope on Monday.

Compiled after the arrest of Benedict’s butler, who leaked sensitive documents to the media, the report has been seen only by the pope and the three cardinals and would be seen only by the next pope, the Vatican said.

The butler’s leaked documents told of corruption in the Vatican, infighting over the running of its scandal-mired bank, and painted a picture of an administration where some clerics were more interested in their careers than serving the pope.

On Sunday, the pope, in his last appearance from his window overlooking St Peter’s Square, said his abdication was God’s will and insisted he was not “abandoning” the Church but stepping down for health reasons.

His last public appearances include a general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday and a meeting with cardinals on Thursday before he flies to the papal summer retreat near Rome.

The papacy will become vacant at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Thursday, February 28.

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