Thursday, May 26, 2011

And Today's Infallible Pronouncement Is . . . Whatever I Decide Is Infallible

Despite the efforts of two Vatican Councils to contain the ultramontanist view of papal infallibility, it continues to rear its ugly head in the official pronouncements of the current pontiff.

The ultramontanists--who held that the pope should be understood as "as if heaven were always open over his head and the light shone down upon him" and that opposition to him was the sin against the Holy Spirit--could conceive of nothing more beneficial than "an infallible statement at the breakfast table each morning with their copy of the London Times."

By insisting that infallibility could only be exercised ex cathedra, i.e. from the chair of Peter under the most stringent of conditions, the First Vatican Council tried to seriously restrict the ultramontanist view. The Second Vatican Council tried to dilute it still further, by recontextualizing papal infallibility alongside of the infallibility of the church's bishops when they taught together and the infallibility of the body of the faithful as a whole.

But since the papacy of John Paul II, guided intellectually by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who succeeded John Paul II as Benedict XVI, ultramontanism has been on the ascendant once again.

The latest manifestation was the claim, made by Benedict XVI in a recent letter dismissing an Australian bishop, that John Paul II “decided infallibly and irrevocably that the church has not the right to ordain women to the priesthood.”

On May 23, 2011, the National Catholic Reporter published two postings challenging the validity and accuracy of Benedict's claim--one an article quoting several theologians who said that Benedict was on very shaky ground, the other an editorial whose title speaks for itself: Ordination ban not infallibly taught.

The editorial states the case succinctly. John Paul II never said ex cathedra that the church had no right to ordain women. What he said was that such was the constant teaching of the church's bishops over several centuries. A few years later, Ratzinger (as the Vatican's chief enforcer of orthodoxy) issued a statement saying that because it was a constant teaching of the bishops, John Paul's edict had to be definitively held by all Catholics. Now, decades after that chain of events, Ratzinger as Pope Benedict translates his interpretation of John Paul's statement into an infallible pronouncement by John Paul! What is infallible is what I say is infallible. What could be more ultramontane?

Of course, what this illustrates above all is how slippery and untenable the notion of any infallibility really is. My dissertation shows on historical, linguistic and cosmological grounds why it is impossible for any church teaching to be irreformable. (Those who are interested in the documentation should click on the link to the right of these postings.) So the real problem is that when Vatican I, in partial deference to the ultramontanists, declared that the pope possesses "that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed," it gratuitously attributed infallibility to the will of Jesus Christ. What the bishops at Vatican I refused to consider is that Jesus Christ may not have willed his church or its leaders to be infallible at all--because such a wish contradicts the metaphysical structure of the universe and future actions by the living God.

So we can continue to fight about "creeping infallibility" and try to rein it in. But even if Benedict were to buy the argument that he has misrepresented what John Paul II said, all he would have to do to overcome the problem would be to mount the chair of Peter and declare ex cathedra what John Paul attributed (inaccurately) to the constant, universal teaching of the bishops.

What really needs to be addressed is how any kind of infallibility can be sustained--philosophically, linguistically or historically. The honest answer is that it cannot be sustained under any of those tests, and that continuing to adhere to a dishonest doctrine can only result in more dishonesty.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

U.S. Clergy Sex-Abuse Report Ignores 'Arrogant Clericalism,' the Primary Cause

Dominican Father Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and a long-time advocate of justice and compassion for clergy sex-abuse victims, says the recently released John Jay report on the causes of sex abuse by U.S. clergy misses the mark by blaming most of the abuse on the permissive sexual culture of the 1960s and 1970s--when several other reports have concluded, accurately, that the main causes were within the Catholic Church and that the pre-eminent one was 'arrogant clericalism."

Doyle posted his commentary on the website of the National Catholic Reporter May 21, 2011. Most of the critique follows.

In the last few days I have carefully read the entire 143-page John Jay report on the causes of clergy sex abuse in the United States and have again reviewed the executive summaries and conclusions of 17 of the 27 reports on clergy sexual abuse that have been published between 1989 and 2011.

Most of these are from official sources such as the U.S. grand juries, the three Irish reports (Ferns, Ryan, Murphy) or the two Canadian reports that resulted from the Mt. Cashel debacle of the eighties. Others are from Church sources such as the National Review Board Report of 2004, The Bernardin Report of 1992 or Church sponsored reports such as the Defenbaugh Report (Chicago, 2006) or the first John Jay Report from 2004. Most of the reports contained a section on causality. None of the reports said anything about the effect of the culture of the sixties or seventies as a factor of causality but every one of them pointed to the various kinds and levels of failure by the bishops as the essential cause of the phenomenon of sexual abuse of children and minors by clerics.

Some of the reports went into more detail about socio-cultural factors that had a causal effect but none of these factors included somehow shifting the blame to the “increased deviance of society during that time” as Karen Terry said in her statement released with the report. There was unanimity about the effect of culture, but it was not the culture outside the church but the culture within. Arthur Jones hit the nail squarely on the head in his NCR column on May 18 when he named arrogant clericalism as the culture that in many ways created the offending clerics and allowed the abuse to flourish.

There is a third source of information that perhaps provides the most accurate data on clergy sexual abuse in our era and that is the data obtained by victims’ attorneys in the six thousand plus civil and criminal cases from the U.S. alone. Add to this the information from similar cases in Canada, Ireland, Australia, the U.K. and several other European countries and you have a picture that is much different than that proposed in this latest John Jay report. The report refers to the sixties and seventies as the peak period with cases dwindling off after that period. This apparently fits in with what some of the cynics have called the “Woodstock Defense.”

Those who see the main conclusions from the Executive Summary as support for the bishops’ blame-shifting tactics are probably right. Yet these conclusions are only a part of the whole story and in some ways they are of minor relevance. The finding that the majority of cases occurred in the 1960s and 1970s can be quickly challenged. It is more accurate to say that the majority of cases reported in the post 2002 period involved abuse that took place in the period from the sixties to the eighties. Its way off base to assume that the majority of incidents of abuse happened during this period. Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald founded the Paraclete community in 1947 to provide help to priests with problems. From the beginning he was treating priests with psycho-sexual issues and in a letter to a bishop he said that 3 out of every 10 priests admitted were there because they had sexually molested minors.

Fr. Gerald wrote that letter in 1964. Unfortunately it is difficult if not impossible to do a study of abuse victims between the 30’s and the 50’s but Fr. Gerald’s information leaves no doubt that sexual abuse by priests was a significant phenomenon long before the free-wheeling 60’s and 70’s. The one constant that was present throughout the entire period from before the 60’s to the turn of the millennium has been the cover-up by the bishops and the disgraceful treatment of victims. The John Jay researchers were commissioned by the bishops to look into the reasons why priests molested and violated minors. They were not asked to figure out why this molestation and violation was allowed to happen. That would have been deadly for the bishops and they knew it.

Nevertheless the researchers could not avoid the blatant role played by the hierarchy. In this regard the report should not be written off as largely either irrelevant or enabling of the bishops’ never-ending campaign to avoid facing their responsibility square on. That’s why it’s important to read the whole report and not depend on the Executive Summary or Karen Terry’s statement or the statements of any of the bishops or church sponsored media outlets. Well into the body there is recognition of the real issues that have caused the anger and are the basis for the thousands of lawsuits and official reports. The section entitled “Mid-1990’s Diocesan Response” on pages 86-91contains a sobering antidote to the soft-peddling about priests who lost their way in the Woodstock Era. To their credit the research team included information critical of the bishops’ responses on several levels. A few quotes:

The failure of some diocesan leaders to take responsibility for the harms of the abuse by priests was egregious in some cases. (p. 89)

Parishioners were not told, or were misled about the reason for the abuser’s transfer (p. 89)

Diocesan leaders rarely provided information to local civil authorities and sometimes made concerted efforts to prevent reports of sexual abuse by priests from reaching law enforcement even before the statute of limitations expired. (p. 89)

Diocesan officials tried to keep their files devoid of incriminating evidence . (p. 89)

Diocesan leaders attempted to deflect personal liability for retaining abusers by relying on therapists’ recommendations or employing legalistic arguments about the status of priests. (p. 89)

Dioceses, the interviewee reported, would intimidate priests who brought charges against other priests; he reported that the law firm hired by the diocese wiretapped his phone and went through his trash. (p. 90).

The interviewee was a priest-victim who had come forward in 1991.

These citations do not represent exceptions. This was the operating procedure that was standard throughout the institutional Church until the public revelations that began in 1984 and reached a boiling point in 2002 caused widespread media attention, legal scrutiny and public outrage which in turn forced the bishops to change their tactics. The John Jay report refers to the organizational steps taken by the bishops in response to the “crisis” and points out that no other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and as a result there are no comparable data from other institutions (Executive Summary, p. 5).

The report gave short shrift to mandatory celibacy and the all-male environment of the clerical world. This will feed right into the defenses of those who try to claim that the problems are all from outside influences. Yet the influence of mandatory celibacy and the sub-culture of which it is an integral part play a major role in the socialization and maturation processes of the men who will eventually violate minors. The clerical culture should have been the subject of the 1.8 million dollar venture because if looked at closely and honestly it would have yielded information that not only provided believable reasons for the abuse nightmare but valuable though radical steps to take to avoid similar travesties in the future. That would have been much too dangerous for the hierarchical establishment though, because without doubt, it would point to needed fundamental changes.

There will be a variety of levels of both praise and criticism of this document. Among the more valuable will be the critical responses of other academic professionals, especially sociologists, which will help place the document in a more realistic and relevant light.

The report was released along with statements by Karen Terry, the lead investigator, Diane Knight, chair of the National Review Board and Blase Cupich, chair of the Bishop’s Committee for the Protection of Children. The most disturbing sentence of all of the documents presented with the report is from Karen Terry’s statement: “The problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the United States is largely historical, and the bulk of cases occurred decades ago.” I am quite certain that Dr. Terry had no idea of how offensive this statement is to the thousands of victims who were abused decades ago and who still live with the intense pain that never goes away. These people aren’t “historical” they are now. What happened to them years or decades ago is still real and still destructive in their lives.

While the bishops and their defenders bask in the illusion that this report validates their standard defenses and their self-affirmation for the procedures and policies they have created to try to heal the wound, the reality of the “phenomenon of sexual abuse” is something this report will not be able to answer. What is important is not why the thousands of clerics went off the tracks and raped and violated tens of thousands of innocent children.

What is important is what the institutional Church has done, or to be more precise, not done, to help heal the thousands of victims who still live in isolation and pain. More than anything else these men and women have had their very souls violated and in the words of some, murdered. Rather than go to such great lengths to try to exonerate themselves the bishops could have done what they should have done…..try, at least, to begin to understand the profound depth of the spiritual wounds inflicted on these many men and women, once innocent and trusting boys and girls. Abandon the insincere promises, the endless efforts to hide the secrets and the debasing legal strategies to pound the victims into submission. Once the official Church figures out how to authentically respond to its victims, and actually does it, then and only then will this abominable disgrace start to slowly move towards being historical.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Pope Fires Australian Bishop for 2006 Pastoral Letter on Priest Shortage

The National Catholic Reporter has posted an editorial angrily denouncing Pope Benedict XVI for firing the bishop of Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia, after local Catholic reactionaries questioned his loyalty to church teachings in an Advent 2006 pastoral letter. The letter said that his diocese might need to consider "other options" for dealing with its shrinking supply of priests than those so far endorsed officially by Rome.

NCR noted scathingly the pope's speed in firing a bishop for having thoughts, in contrast with his inability to fire any bishop who enabled and covered up priestly molestation of children. It shows, NCR said, where the pope's priorities lie. The editorial follows.

The Australian Catholic diocese of Toowoomba, encompassing more than 300,000 square miles, has just a relative handful of healthy priests to serve the church’s 35 parishes. So it came as no surprise to Toowoomba’s Catholics when the area’s bishop, William M. Morris, addressed the priest shortage in a candid but still cautious Advent 2006 pastoral letter.

“We do face an uncertain future with regard to the number of active priests in our diocese,” wrote Morris. “Other options,” he wrote, “may well” need be considered. These include:

1. “ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community;
2. welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry;
3. ordaining women, married or single;
4. recognizing Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders.”

For these words, this week the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI has fired Morris. Eighteen years as bishop ended with the stroke of a papal pen. (Click here for original the news story about the Morris firing.)

Some obvious but necessary points need making:

First, it turns out it’s really not that difficult for the pope to give a bishop a pink slip. In the course of the quarter-century clergy sexual abuse cover-up, there’s been considerable hand wringing over just this question. Bishops don’t “work for” the pope, we have been told. Bishops are “fathers” to their flock – with all the unconditional love and commitment that entails – not employees subject to the whims, well-intentioned or otherwise, of the boss. Canonical procedures must be followed.

Apparently, that’s just so much hooey. If the pope and his advisers care deeply about an issue about which a bishop has publicly raised questions – such as women priests and optional celibacy – a way can be found to dismiss that bishop.

And – noteworthy because it goes to some underlying issues – a bishop who acts against church teaching and law related to sexually abusive priests apparently need fear no such reprisal.

Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, for example, continues a life befitting a prince in splendorous surroundings, even as his flouting of church procedures (and perhaps civil law) resulted in nearly 30 diocesan priests facing administrative suspension and heat from local prosecutors.

And not to forget Cardinal Bernard Law, orchestrator of the Boston clergy abuse cover-up. His punishment? An extended Roman holiday and a healthy pension. Meanwhile, Morris gets the door.

The pope’s priorities are clear.

The pervasive intellectual chill in the church reaches beyond the towers of academia (note the recent chastisement of theologian St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson) or to those who directly challenge the rules – Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois’ open support for women’s ordination a most recent case in point. (Bourgeois is facing excommunication for saying what he thinks on the subject.)

Now even those directly in the line of apostolic succession are forbidden to speak freely.

Note that Morris did not offer answers to the provocatively posed semi-questions on celibacy and ordination he raised that Advent. Instead, employing what one advocacy group terms the “progressive bishop’s style book,” he couched his concerns more obliquely. (No doubt to avoid Rome’s wrath. Lot of good that did him.)

Today, it seems, even such carefully couched queries are completely verboten; such so-called “open questions” (non-doctrinal in every sense of the word) such as the ordination of married men are grounds for dismissal. That the overwhelming majority of clergy (not to mention laypeople) think the failure to even consider options like married priests in the midst of a clergy shortage crisis goes beyond Dilbertesque mismanagement. It is, to employ the psychobabble of the era, completely dysfunctional.

As we prepare to celebrate the feast of the first pope next month, are we still permitted to remind church fathers that Peter was a married man? That this Holy Father was likely a human father? Or should Mrs. Peter and her progeny, like so many nettlesome Stalin-era apparatchiks, be airbrushed from history?

Because of Morris, we know that the dysfunction flows right from the top. Canon law may be more flexible than previously promoted, but a bishop’s dismissal cannot be shuffled to an underling, buried, as in Bourgeois’ case, in a bureaucratic chain of command. No, the canning of a bishop is a task only a pope can command.

And he has made his priorities quite clear.

While the reasons for Morris’ dismissal are relatively clear, the process remains an unholy mess, shrouded in secrecy.

Soon after Morris’ 2006 Advent pastoral was released, Benedict sent Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to “investigate” the incident, which is a little like sending the fox to investigate the hens. Given his well-known views on the concerns raised by Morris (Chaput is more Catholic than the pope on these issues), we are skeptical that Toowoomba’s bishop got a fair hearing. There’s a relatively small number of right wing Catholics in the diocese (Morris and others call them the “Temple Police”) who have long been after the bishop. That Chaput gave them undue weight and deference seems more than plausible.

You know the type. In the U.S., they are the crowd that takes marching orders from The Wanderer, their time at Mass searching for a violation of a rubric rather than receiving whatever wisdom or grace might come their way. Then, having detected an “Alleluia” where an “Amen” was called for, they write letters to Vatican congregations, hoping for a sympathetic ear to their pathetic pleas.

Their Australian equivalents were, it appears, successful in transforming Morris’ molehill into a mountain.

But, we acknowledge, our skepticism is partly emotional, or perhaps ideological. We’re inclined to give Morris a break because we’re inclined to agree with him that the issues he raises require airing.

But, and here’s the point, we simply don’t know what Chaput found because no one’s talking. Not even Morris has received a copy of Chaput’s report (assuming something has been reduced to writing).

We presume, given the public nature of Morris’ offenses, that Chaput’s findings have something to do with the bishop brainstorming some remedies to the priest shortage in the face of the real crisis in his local church.

Did Chaput find something more dastardly, such as a bishop speaking like an adult to his church? Heaven forbid. We likely will never know. When NCR asked Chaput to respond to a series of questions regarding his apostolic visitation to Morris’ diocese, he declined to answer, explaining that “any apostolic visitation is governed by strict confidentiality. This is for the benefit of all parties involved.”

So are we to believe Morris has benefitted from being tossed out without ever having been allowed to defend himself against Chaput's findings, which were never shared with the Australian prelate? This is the kind of trial and judgement one more often associates with China or Iran. The Catholic church?

The real scandal to the faithful in this matter has nothing to do with the way Morris has conducted himself. It has everything to do with priorities and processes within our church today. It has much to do with the trampling of human rights and professed values of decency and charity by our church’s prelates, in this case including, sad to say, Benedict himself.

This is no way, shall we say, to set a Christian example – or manage the church.

In 2003, Fred Gluck, a former managing partner of McKinsey & Company who currently serves on the board of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, wrote a memo to church leaders. It’s crafted in managementese, but disregard the jargon for the moment and pay attention to the message.Wrote Gluck:

  • “Your organization [the church] has no effective central point of leadership that can energize the necessary program change.

  • “Your leadership is aging and also largely committed to the status quo or even the status ante.

  • “Your tradition of hierarchy dominates most of your thinking about management.”

  • “Coming to grips with this formidable set of challenges in an organization as historically successful as yours will be a daunting challenge, and can only be accomplished by a comprehensive program of change with strong leadership from the top,” he concluded.
No one in a position of authority paid any discernible attention to Gluck eight years ago. Sadly, we don’t expect that to change.

The pope has made his priorities all too clear.