Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Oh Oh, The Right And The Left Are Finding A Common Cause--Or The Elephant In The Papacy Of JPII

I wrote earlier this week that the Maciel debacle could be a kind of nuclear bomb for the Vatican and that it should have a serious effect on the canonization process of John Paul II. To mix bomb metaphors, the fuse is smoking. The following is an excerpt from Damian Thompson's blog in the UK Telegraph. For those who don't know, Damian Thompson does not personify the definition of a flaming liberal.

Why some conservative Catholics want to stop Pope John Paul II being made a saint

For a long time now, some conservative Catholics – most of them hardline traditionalists – have been discreetly slagging off the late Pope John Paul II.

One priest I know grimaces every time his name is mentioned.
“Oh, you mean, ‘John Paul the Great’,” he says,” rolling his eyes. He does not want him to be made a saint – not because he thinks he was a bad man, but because he thinks that, despite his heroic witness against Communism, he damaged the Church.

The charge sheet against JPII goes something like this:

1. He allowed truly terrible appointments to be made in Rome and to diocesan sees around the world. England and Wales was bad enough, but some bishops in Germany and France are what you might call “Vatican II protestants”. These bishops are now intent on wrecking the pontificate of Benedict XVI. (Terrible appointments are in the eye of the beholder. What is consistent is that both conservatives and progressives toed the Vatican line on the sexual abuse scandal. That makes them all terrible together.)

2. As a result of bad appointments, especially in America, the scandal of clerical sex abuse gathered pace, and for one reason or another – perhaps because he was so busy travelling – John Paul II failed to act swiftly (or at all, in the early days). He allowed guilty priests to be moved to parishes where they carried on abusing minors. (He also allowed them to be moved out of country in order to avoid prosecution, and transferred folks to Rome to avoid embarrassing testimony and/or criminal prosecution. See Cardinal's Law and Levada)

3. He tried to improve the liturgy, but in practice allowed bishops and priests to do their own thing, turning the sanctuary into a sort of talent show for women “eucharistic ministers”. And the papal MC, Archbishop Piero Marini, set a terrible example by dressing the Pope in Star Trek outfits and adding a touch of Butlins to international jamborees. (None of these are exactly in the same class as participating in what can be considered an international criminal conspiracy.)

4. John Paul’s attempts to reach out to other faiths effectively celebrated and validated non-Christian religions. Conservative Catholics still feel outrage at the memory of the Pope praying with the Dalai Lama et al at Assisi, and kissing the Koran on a visit to Syria
Until now, most anti-JPII sentiment has been expressed prviately. But take a look at this post on the website RenewAmerica, from Eric Giunta, a conservative law student.

"Once again, the Catholic world has been rocked by yet more allegations of sexual impropriety by Legionnaires of Christ founder, the late Fr. Marcial Maciel. It seems the now-disgraced founder-cum-pervert fathered more children than previously suspected; the latest claimants to his paternity purport to have evidence that the late Pope John Paul II knew of Maciel’s sexual dalliances, and turned a blind eye to them …

The allegations highlight what for all too many Catholics is the elephant-in-the-room when discussing the ills which beset the modern Church: the extent to which the late Pope John Paul II was an enabler of these perversions, from sexual and liturgical abuse to theological dissent and the scandal of Catholic politicians who support the most immoral of social policies with the tacit or express blessings of their Church. (And some of those politicians were right wing fascist dictators who bled their people dry while supporting the Church's stance on abortion. You know guys like Pinochet, Doc Duvalier, and she of the hundreds of pairs of shoes whom Newsweek called "One Of The Greediest People Of All Time" That would be Imelda Marcos, and all of these paragons of Catholicism were Maciel supporters.)

One does not need to deny or disparage the personal sanctity, thoughtful conservatism, or religious orthodoxy of the late Pontiff in order to acknowledge that his Pontificate, by all accounts, was a glorious failure. Yes, he aided in the fall of Eastern European Communism, but the Pope of Rome is not primarily a mover and shaker of state politics, but a Christian pastor whose mission it is to save souls, convert the lost, and govern his church in such a way that it resembles, as best as possible, the city on a hill, the light of the world …" (Mr. Giunta appears to be a 'high tension' kind of Catholic)

Giunta does not want to see the feast day of Pope St John Paul II added the calendar:

"Though Catholics and others are loathe to admit it of an otherwise beloved Pope, John Paul II oversaw a church which deteriorated in both its inner and outer life. His callous indifference toward the victims of priestly sexual abuse in refusing to meet personally with a single one of them, and his stubborn refusal to compel the resignation from office of any of the bishops who aided, abetted, and covered-up the abuse, are testamentary to his utter failure: not as a Catholic or a theologian, but as a Pope. (Here, here, well said.)

And this is precisely why he should not be canonized. For in the Catholic (and popular) understanding, canonization is not simply a technical decree indicating one’s everlasting abode in Paradise; it is, in addition, the Church’s solemn endorsement of a Christian’s heroic virtue. The question the Catholic Church must ask herself is: Was John Paul II a model of “heroic” papal virtue?" (Not consistently, that's for sure, but back to the views of Mr. Giunta.)

"Contrary to leftist media reportage, the late Pope was not an authoritarian despot, bent on enforcing Catholic orthodoxy on an unwilling church. Quite the contrary: theological liberals and dissenters flourished in all of the Church’s structures, from lay politics and Catholic universities, to the ranks of priests and bishops. Not a single pro-abortion Catholic politician has been excommunicated from the church; only a handful of openly heretical priests were asked to stop teaching theology, but were otherwise permitted to exercise their priestly ministry unhindered. The Church in Austria openly dissents from orthodox Catholicism with papal impunity. Fr. Richard McBrien, Sr. Joan Chittiser, Roger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Notre Dame University, dissenters galore: the overwhelming majority of prominent far-leftist, theologically modernist Catholic organizations, speakers, and theologians are Catholics in good standing with their church, and are frequently given an official platform at church-sponsored institutions and events. To give just two more examples, several Catholic parishes and universities flaunt themselves as “gay-friendly” in a directory published by the Conference of Catholic Lesbians. These speakers and institutions are in just as good standing with the Church as so-called “orthodox” Catholic pundits and writers." (OK, at least we agree on the Maciel thing and it's implications for the Papacy of JPII. We'll just have to agree to disagree on the rest, but I do respect your right to stay in the Church. Now back to Damian Thompson.)

I don’t endorse these views: in fact, it seems perfectly obvious that the reign of John Paul II was one of slowly growing orthodoxy in the Church, nurtured by his Catechism and a series of magnificent encyclicals. And those Catholics who want to draw a sharp distinction between the agendas of John Paul and Benedict are overlooking the fact that the theological direction of the last pontificate owed an enormous amount to the current Holy Father, who would be horrified by Giunta’s article.
Yet this debate is clearly gathering pace. JPII loyalists are also on the warpath. (George Weigel is using the Maciel scandal as a stick with which to beat this administration, not the last one.) (And George Weigel has egg all over his face for his own personal support of Maciel when the Hartford Courant first aired the story. Benedict need not fear George Weigel--at least not as much as a real investigation of Maciel and his inner circle.)


This debate will gather even more steam if Archbishop Chaput and company really do their job. Looking into who were the Legions wealthier financial supporters, and what exactly Maciel did with all the money which is unaccounted for, is as critical as any other part of this investigation. From looking at what information is available, Maciel wasn't just a sexual predator, he was an all around seriously accomplished predator.

There is absolutely no way that his inner circle and his Vatican supporters weren't aware of his personality and proclivities. They colluded with and protected him. Why? Who else were they protecting--themselves? Was Maciel also engaged in blackmail? What kinds of deals had Maciel been making and with whom did he make them? To answer these questions honestly, the visitation board should be hiring legitimate criminal investigators as part of their expert panel, as this man was in fact, an international criminal.

I am well aware of the fact that the hierarchy is loathe to bring legitimate outside investigators into what they see as Church business and their little dirty secrets. This case is different. This case involves not just those victims Maciel sexually abused, which is bad enough, but the tens of thousands of honest dedicated Catholics who joined the Legion and Regnum Christi, the parents who sent their children to Legion schools, and all the Catholics who got run over by Legion methods.

Protecting the legacy of John Paul II or Benedict XVI is not a legitimate reason to sweep this particular clerical scandal under some obscure Vatican rug. I think Benedict knows this, which is why he was the one who reopened Maciel's case and followed through on it in 2006 and called for this investigation this spring. I just hope he has the will to see it through to it's real end, because if it's thorough and legitimate, it won't be pretty.

I've always seen this case as hugely symbolic of the real issues facing Catholicism. Those issues are unchecked clerical power, maintenance of that system at the expense of the rest of us, cults of personality masquerading as charisms, a poorly understood psychology of sexuality, gender discrimination, and not to be left out, influence peddling.

If following the leads in this particular case brings down the legacy of John Paul II and exposes some serious rot in the Vatican, so be it. When future historians judge this era of the Church, they might just determine that it was also the most powerfully beneficial consequence of John Paul's papacy. After all, God does work in mysterious ways.


  1. Rats. Sinking ship. Yawnnnnnnnnnn.

    Jim McCrea

  2. ## First: this is a weblog to read again and again and again :)

    If the official Church's response to several enormous sexual scandals is, to try to manage it; what possible reason can there be for supposing that it won't try to "manage" the Maciel affair as well ? These characters aren't fit to run a whelk stall - but there's nothing any of us *plebs* can do about it.

    The Church is many things - but it can hardly be accused of being concerned to help those who are molested. It strains belief to think the cause for canonisation of the late Pope is going to be de-railed by a mere fuss about whom he knew. What are a few abused Catholics, compared to the high and mighty Roman Church, the Church that Can Do No Wrong ? (Answers on the back of a stamp please.)

  3. It definitely is a blog to read again and again and again...

    The Church is a very messed up family affair and instead of setting an example of Christ in the world, cleaning up its act, and bringing Christ into the world by such example, it has managed to alienate religious and the laity, theologians, intellectuals, nuns or pc Sisters, just about anyone who doesn't go along or agree with their "management" practices. I think it is more like a stinking ship with a foul odor of the dead which the likes of Fr. Marcial Maciel and his crony enablers left, as opposed to a sinking ship. There is no denying that it stinks to high heaven.

    I hope that Pope Benedict can steer this ship into a humble port to Jesus Christ. We all need to get off and re-explore the Gospels meaning and take a breather from the totalitarian politics that infest it and the stinky sexual scandals by priest and expose the real rats who enabled them and give a proper burial to a sect that was headed up by a pervert masquerading as a Catholic priest with the blessing of JPII. This is the real renewal that the Church needs before it can move forward, or it will sink under the weight of its own not-so-secret sins.

  4. Rat-biter, I don't know that this time the hierarchy hasn't bit off too much for real Catholics who truly believe they have a connection with Jesus.

    Those people will eventually get over their liturgical and political differences and just praise and worship in their own honored way. Maciel will help because when it comes to the dicatorship of relevance he's Prince Machiavelli. The rest of us are just sheep with reasoned opinions.

    Butterfly: when management practices alienate all the sheep, the sheperd loses the flock. It's not that the wolves win, it's that the sheperd loses. I kind of think Benedict might be seeing this. Sometimes it's really is the sheperd which caused the sheep to bolt and revolt. I kind of think Archbishop Dolan of NY is getting this, and Archbishop Chaput is on his way to facing something he never wanted to believe was possible in his churh--and this is inspite of the fact he's been 'exposed' to certain facets of it.

    We certainly do live in interesting time.

  5. "I've always seen this case as hugely symbolic of the real issues facing Catholicism. Those issues are unchecked clerical power, maintenance of that system at the expense of the rest of us, cults of personality masquerading as charisms, a poorly understood psychology of sexuality, gender discrimination, and not to be left out, influence peddling."

    Excellent analysis, Colleen. Absolutely true.

  6. Colleen,

    Thank you for this piece and your comment. Kind of funny that some of the same nuns now under investigation by this awful leadership taught me in grammar school that because of their positions, the Bishops had a great responsibility to bear and in the final judgement, more would be expected of them. Maybe this is true, but this group of leaders and so many that came before them are responsible for spreading disfunction not grace into our world. dennis

  7. Reality Check: generally speaking, the only priests who 'got caught' in the sex abuse crisis are those who either:

    1. were not politically powerful enough to squash it
    2. were allowed to be 'sacrificial lambs' either to keep snoops off the trail of bigger fish, or simply to allow priests (guilty AND innocent!) to go down the toilet.
    3. the exceptional cases they could NOT keep a lid on, as God willed that they be exposed.

    One could view the Maciel/LC investigation similarly - bearing in mind that Opus Dei does not like competition......

    This will be a show-trial. A distraction. There will be some noise, some disapproving look, finger wagging, & some nominal admissions of guilt & shame, here & there. But ultimately nothing of real substance will happen to the LC/RC - and it incredible (hidden) tantacles of PACs, publishing houses, websites, groups, etc. etc.

    They are very useful to Opus Dei. They facilitate political agendas, get layfolk involved in cult-like groups & initiatives. They keep the radical Anti-Abortion/anti homosexual lunatic fringe movements running.

    The LC is very useful........