Friday, 27 January 2012

He Who Pays the Piper

… Calls the Tune

Perhaps it’s best to put up a GOVERNMENT HEALTH WARNING: “Too much speculation is bad for your spiritual health!” before going any further. Well, I’ve just done so. Let the speculation begin…

The suspicion is growing on me that the supposedly theological battle – loosely framed as conservative/traditional vs. liberal/modern – for the very heart and soul of the Church is just a red herring. In my view it’s something akin to a conjuring trick, where the conjuror gets you to look in one direction, diverting your attention away from the trick he intends to pull on you. The real issue, in my opinion, is a political one, and is largely determined by what’s happening behind the scenes. Who is taking hold of the reins of power within the Catholic Church? Who is calling the shots? Who is paying the piper, thus deciding the tune?
Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin

There are those of you who are reading this and saying to themselves: Okay, here goes another fancy conspiracy theory. Well, not really. Instead, I would like to point to certain inconsistencies that are, at the very least, a bad PR exercise, but when put together undermine the Catholic Church’s authority and standing. Let’s have a look at the upcoming creation of 22 new cardinals, and the implications of this move. You may follow the link to the article in the Tablet for the statistics.
Whichever way one looks at the figures, it’s becoming pretty clear that Benedict favours a European pope as his successor. Or, not to be so blatant about it, the present pope is ensuring that a well-marked direction is followed. If these 120+ men (no women in this club) are supposed to be representing the 1 billion+ Catholics worldwide, then they are doing a very poor job. What we have instead is a very selective representation: European (especially Italian), and curial. Am I the only one around here who sees a very bureaucratic, conservative type of governance in the near future? Am I the only one to think that the whole act is yet another manifestation of Western colonialism, at a time when the balance of power in the world has moved east and south? Are only white males in Roman offices suitable for steering Peter’s barque?

I think it would be naïve to see the above move in isolation from other actions. Is it unreasonable for me to ask who is pulling the strings in Rome? Who are the persons and groups who are seeking to strengthen their hold on the Church through their jockeying for positions and power in the Vatican? That a majority of cardinal-electors come from a part of the world that represents only 25% of the Catholic Church is a serious matter indeed. It is a big slap on the face for the churches in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The Papal trips and visits to these continents appear more clearly for what they have long been suspected to be: theatrical acts and plenty of pageantry. Perhaps those who are footing the bill for this piper Pope’s voyages (and those of whose predecessor) are really calling the tune after all.

Pure speculation? Let’s pan out a bit. The above is, to my view, of a piece with, for example, the [largely unsuccessful] rapprochement with the SPX society, the equally condescending (and totally unjust) move to win over disaffected members of the Anglican/Episcopalian Church, and the obsession with the Tridentine Mass. I say obsession because they seem to be the workings of a mind obsessed with purity (particularly ritual purity, of which the insistence on celibacy is but a part), idealised in this case in the Latin form. It all adds up, doesn’t it, when one gets to know that the crude translation that passes for the Mass in the English vernacular is also an attempt to totally align oneself to the Latin text, as God wouldn’t have it otherwise. And then there’s that insistence on minutiae, and on certain gestures and movements: sit, stand, kneel, three pats on the chest, sit, stand, prostrate... a textbook case of obsessive compulsive disorder methinks. It’s simply nauseating, if it weren’t also so damaging to the Church’s future. Who is pumping this life-numbing mentality into the Church, I ask? At the behest of who are these controversial moves made?

Isn’t it damaging enough that the Catholic Church worldwide has lost much of its moral high ground in the aftermath of the clergy abuse crisis? Why is the hierarchy (or a section of it, at least) engaged in an ongoing battle with LGBT persons? Any organisation worth its salt would have learnt how to read and interpret the statistics and opinion polls. Failure to do so spells the end of the road for that organisation. Are the Pope and the rest of the hierarchy so far removed from the mass of Catholics worldwide not to realise that the majority of the Catholic membership do not necessarily agree with what the hierarchy teaches on a number of issues, mainly in the area of human sexuality?

It is precisely in the area of moral teaching that the inconsistencies abound. I find slogans like “traditional family values” or “pro-life campaign” to be somewhat overused and disingenuous. It is very unfortunate that Pope John Paul II presented moral issues in absolutist terms, either black or white. He sent into overdrive the “culture of life – culture of death” debate, and even his successor, Benedict XVI, hasn’t been able to fully disentangle himself from this manner of doing moral theology. What’s interesting me right now is how this moral debate is working its way into the run-up for the US presidency elections. How dare the US Catholic bishops talk about “pro-life” or “traditional family values”? Their brass neck leaves me breathless.

Well, Dolan and Co. can’t play that card selectively. Doing so is not only a big failure on their part but goes to prove that they have another agenda. They can’t restrict “pro-life” issues to artificial contraception and abortion (where a majority of Catholics in the country are not in agreement with the official line), and then fail to speak out on issues such as war or capital punishment. How can the bishops be taken seriously about “family values”, or about being pro-life, when they fail so miserably when it comes to protect vulnerable members in their Church - children - from the paedophile clergy within their ranks? And if they were really serious about life issues and human rights, then they would come down clearly on the side of LGBT folk, rather fight them in every forum. Dolan and Co., you should speak out forcefully against hate crimes committed against LGBT persons, and the bullying that has lead to a frighteningly high percentage of teen-suicides. What’s the point of insisting so much about life between conception and birth, and then failing to address the other issues?

I can go on and on. It’s hypocritical to play just the abortion and contraception cards, and hide the rest of the pack. To flare out against Obama before and after 2008 on these and related issues, but not speaking equally forcefully against those who have brought the world economy to its knees because of their recklessness and egoism. Don’t the US bishops have anything to say to the top 1%? Will these honourable gentlemen back persons the like of Gingrich or Santorum just because these politicians claim to have Catholic credentials? What about their values, and their stand on a number of very serious issues? Is it because the Catholic Church in the US has much to gain from backing the Catholic number to the White House? Or at least by backing someone who comes from the top 1%, as long as this individual protects the interests of a very privileged and select club: the “heterosexual”white male? Come on, cough up! Who’s filling your Church’s coffers, [Cardinal] Dolan? Who’s setting the agenda for you?


 (Originally posted by Bart at Queering the Church)
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