Sunday, September 19, 2010

Benedict's Final Instructions For Britain's Bishops

State visits aren't usually known for exhibitions of humility.  This one was no exception.

Pope calls church to be 'humble' model on abuse

by John L Allen Jr on Sep. 19, 2010 NCR Today

The following is an edited version of John Allen's latest post from the NCR website.  It reports on remarks Benedict delivered to the Bishops of England, Scotland, and Wales and represented his last address before heading back to Rome.  I'm a bit confused if the paragraphs Allen first reports on were addressed to the whole Church or the Bishops' end of things.
In his final act before departing the U.K. for Rome, Pope Benedict XVI has challenged the Catholic church to “humbly” present itself as a model for all society in the protection of children and young people from abuse. (Wow, I bet this statement goes over well in Belgium.)

It marked the fourth time the pontiff has addressed the sexual abuse crisis during his Sept. 16-19 trip to Scotland and England. The crisis has not taken on the same dimensions here as in the United States, Ireland, Germany, and other countries, but it nevertheless formed an important subtext to the trip.

This was the first time the pope has explicitly suggested that the experience accumulated by the Catholic church over the last decade could be a model for the wider world.

“Your growing awareness of the extent of child abuse in society, its devastating effects, and the need to provide proper victim support should serve as an incentive to share the lessons you have learned with the wider community,” Benedict said. (The thing is open societies, (the evil secular liberal kind), were on to this whole abuse issue way before the Church. Notice how Benedict didn't say awareness of abuse in the Church?  Perhaps one of the lessons which should be shared is liars and spinners eventually get caught and it's not good for one's spiritual reputation.)

“Indeed, what better way could there be of making reparation for these sins than by reaching out, in a humble spirit of compassion, towards children who continue to suffer abuse elsewhere?” (Yes, for sure, why deal with the ones the Church created because admitting to those victims might cost the Church a whole bunch of money.)

“Our duty of care towards the young demands nothing less,” the pope said.

Benedict also acknowledged that the crisis has “undermined the moral authority of church leaders.”...... (It's that whole liar/spinner lesson I mentioned.  That's the lesson they really can humbly share.)

As he has throughout the trip, Benedict also once again took on secularism with the bishops. He urged the bishops to present the Christian message in its fullness, “including those elements which call into question the widespread assumptions of today’s culture.”

In that regard, he invited them to draw upon the resources of the new Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, whose mission is to reawaken the faith in traditionally Christian, but now broadly secularized, Western nations. (Operative words are 'traditionally Christian'.  Progressively Christian can just go to hell like the traditionalist kind keep telling us.)

Acknowledging the fallout from the global financial crisis, including high unemployment and the carnage caused by “ill-advised investment policies,” the pope asked the bishops to highlight “the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, who can so easily be overlooked in the allocation of limited resources.” He also called on British Catholics to continue to be generous in support of those in need.  (Benedict could make a real gesture along these ideas by closing the Vatican Bank to people engaged in those "ill-advised investment policies".  He could start with members of Tom Monaghan's Legatus group.)

Finally, the pontiff asked the bishops for help on two projects, both of which have drawn mixed reviews at both the top and the bottom of the Catholic community in the U.K.: Implementation of the new Roman Missal, the official translation of texts for the Mass, and his recent document Anglicanorum Coetibus, which created new structures (called “ordinariates”) to welcome former Anglicans seeking to become Catholics.

While the new missal has been criticized in some quarters for using an obscure “sacred language” and thus reversing the emphasis of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on adapting the liturgy to the culture, Benedict urged the bishops “to seize the opportunity that the new translation offers for in-depth catechesis on the Eucharist and renewed devotion in the manner of its celebration.” 
Benedict also asked the bishops to be “generous” in utilizing the new structures for Anglicans, arguing that they represent “a prophetic gesture that can contribute positively to the developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics.”  (I doubt he means the relationship between Episcopalians, progressive Anglicans, and the Vatican.)

At the time the structures were first announced, some Anglicans complained of “poaching,” and also suggested that they could destabilize the Anglican Communion at an already difficult moment. Liberal Catholics objected to rolling out a red carpet for the most traditionalist elements within Anglicanism, while some bishops privately wondered if there was actually much real-world market demand for these structures.

The pope said the move is a reminder of the ultimate goal of ecumenism, which is “restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies.” (But ultimately on Rome's terms and conditions.)


For all the reporting about Pope Benedict taking on evil dictatorial secular relativism and dueling with the British atheist dragon, I really did appreciate the fact he hit on the Evil Global Financial Crisis, and all that 'relative' speculation and deceptive dictatorial interest policies.  Not too mention the crass greed motivation and indifference to the rest of humanity. 

I really liked what Benedict said Saturday concerning financial institutions being 'too big to fail' and democratic governments dumping billions and billions of tax payer dollars into bailing them out. (Hardly an example of 'free' enterprise.)  Like Benedict said,  it's humanity itself that should be considered too important to fail.  One of the truly evil aspects of Western secularism is this whole idea of global corporations having the status of legal person hood in national and international law.  Forget the rights of the unborn, relative to these global giants, none of humanity has much in the way rights.  I so wish he would concentrate on that demon, and practice holy silence on what is becoming more and more obvious,  his personal issues with homosexuality.

His speech at Westminster Hall will undoubtedly be an important part of his historic legacy.  There is a place for spiritual/religious ethics in the public square.  Where his argument lost some steam is in his refusal to see that not only other spiritual and religious traditions have a right to be heard in the public square, but so do other interpretations of Christianity.

I had one other thought while listening to his approach on Ecumenism.  Benedict talks about re evangelizing Western Catholicism, but it's really reaching the point where it's not about re evangelizing, it's more about initiating an ecumenical dialogue.  One thing we do know about human neural wiring is once a person leaves behind a given world view, that person never goes back to the same world view.  They may go back to some of the practices, but not for the same reasons.  In a speech given by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hillarion at Lambeth Palace the week before Benedict's arrival in Britain.  Hillarion made no bones about the state of ecumenical talks between the Russian Orthodox and Anglican communions.  They are essentially dead.

"All current versions of Christianity can be very conditionally divided into two major groups - traditional and liberal. The abyss that exists today divides not so much the Orthodox from the Catholics or the Catholics from the Protestants as it does the 'traditionalists' from the 'liberals'.

Hillarion is right.  He defines the abyss as that between liberals and traditionalists, which is the standard description. I think it's a little deeper than that.  It's really an abyss between those who relate principally with the Bible and written dogma, and those who relate to a living evolving spiritual understanding of God.  This second approach usually has it's foundations in the first.  The first approach is static and stable and needs an external authority. The other is evolving and less stable with the individual conscience as the final authoritative source.  The second approach by definition includes the first.  It can't work the other way around, and this is why the re evangelization of the West is dead in the water if all it does is promote the agenda of the traditionalists. 

I think Benedict knows all this, but it looks good on paper to try--and it's good for one's papal legacy.


  1. One thing we do know about human neural wiring is once a person leaves behind a given world view, that person never goes back to the same world view.
    Right on target. It's pretty much like trying to unpeel an onion.

  2. Oh wow, that's a really great analogy. Spiritual progress really is like unpealing an onion, especially when it comes to dealing with pet personal dysfunction. There always seems to be another layer.

  3. Colleen,

    The last three or four pieces you have written are absolutely outstanding.

    I'll disagree with the framing of the problem as one of traditionalists versus liberals. When used by the the authorities to bolster their own power with the traditionalist, authoritarian minded in the pews it distracts from the more essential problem:

    the crisis has "undermined the moral authority of church leaders"

    Today's readings concerned the "Shrewd Manager". The lesson is directed at the disciples and the Pharisees.

    The Pharisees were among the traditionalist/orthodox/right wing religionists of their day, distinguished and devout although they were not of the priestly class.

    Today the Vatican and the traditional/orthodox should be reminded that bad stewardship is condemned by Jesus.

    What a contrast to what every leader in the church should be: ...a good shepherd.


  4. Think of how this pope and the papacy in general could really show humility. Notice how it is the pope who lectures the UK bishops on their obligations, but does the pope have the humility to listen to the local bishops lecture him about their situation and the aspirations of their people? True dialogue and a spirit of genuine humility would invite such an exchange.

  5. You're right p2p, but until enough us reject authority framing the discussion, the authorities will frame the discussion. That's why Benedict has NEVER admitted any culpability on the part of the hierarchy. He never gets above the individual priest and now he's talking about lessons the Church can teach society about abuse, as if the Church has learned all the lessons it needs to learn.

    Which avoids the real lesson, how does it regain it's moral authority? That can't happen on Benedict's watch because he truly is operating out of old notions of the 'perfect society' and perfect societies don't make mistakes by definition.

  6. Kevin, dialogue would be a novel idea. I just keep thinking about how this papacy sandbagged Rowan Williams with the offer to traditional Anglicans. That is apparently Benedict's definition of dialogue----after the fact.

  7. @kevin57

    ... amen

    There is deeper meaning that's being missed here. He should be washing feet both figuratively and literally.

    Too much speaking and not enough listening.


  8. Wow! Well, if the church EVER hopes to be a "model" again, then is must become a model for reforming itself from top to bottom. For unless it does so, it has learned nothing from all the abuse it inflicted - on Christ! The institution itself is to blame. And the institution must be radically restructured, dismantled and rebuilt. Anything less is "no model"!!!

    Just this morning I was reading how the presence of the Holy Spirit makes us a "prophetic people." Thus it's not just those anointed as bishops the pope should be humbly hearing, but the people - those sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit. And that is us!

    Washing feet. Amen! I completely agree with p2p.

    Indeed I've been meditating a lot on the foot washing ... for several years really. And I'm getting ready to write a lot about that. For I am now convinced that the footwashing relates to "unity" and like the rest of the farewell discourse, contains a deep commentary on issues central to Deuteronomy and Joshua - issues revolving around the two central tenets preached by Jesus (and revealed in the Old Testament as well) - love of God and love of neighbor. And key to both is the unity of worship and bonds of love.

    I'll have more to say on that ultimately. It will take me some time. But the footwashing is key here. And I think I can demonstrate that.

    The pope fails to see that "governing" is "serving" - and that is what the Spirit does and teaches us to do as well. That's what Jesus did.

    I know I'm preaching to the choir. A choir the pope refuses to hear. He totally misunderstands the meaning of Baptism. IMHO.